Well, the Brickster knows that as much as ya all’d like to, you can’t take up all of yer movie time watchin’ my manly classics. So, what are you to do after you’ve just finished checkin’ out all the extra features on the ‘Brick McBurly And The Samurai Chicks’ special DVD boxed set? Well, yer in luck, because I’m gonna let ya in on some of my personal fav’rits! We’re gonna dispense with discussin’ any Kurosawa films or Mifune classics-heck, those are covered in detail by a cornucopia of talented reviewers in the west (includin’ our pal Patrick Galloway in his excellent book, ‘Stray Dogs And Lone Wolves’, the Samurai Film handbook). Nope, we’re gonna stick to some lesser known classics that deserve to get some attention (not to mention other non-samurai Japanese classics that the Brickster just feels like coverin'). 


Occasionally a film will come along and stand a genre on its head, not only givin’ it new life but takin’ it to a higher plateau of excellence in the process. Such a film is Ishii Teruo's 1973 masterpiece Bohachi Bushido (‘Code of the Forgotten Eight’…forgotten eight virtues, in this case). Rarely has the field of jidaigeki seen an effort like this! While the Brickster was initially hesitant to drop 25 bucks on a film he had never heard of, it’s the best investment I’ve ever made on a DVD. ‘Bohachi’ stars Tanba Tetsuro, who had previously appeared in several minor films such as Seppuku, Kaidan, Secret of The Urn, You Only Live Twice, Goyokin, and Three Outlaw Samurai. Tanba finally got a chance to shine in his role as the embittered and suicidal ronin/assassin Ashita Shino who lends his murderous talents to the Bohachi. The Bohachi are involved with prostitution in the Yoshiwara red-light district and are primarily involved with procurin’ women and breakin’ them to the fold. The members have renounced all claims to the eight virtues-godliness, respect of elders, loyalty to friends, trust in allies, modesty, justice, conscience, and shame. Except they’re also supposed to be loyal and respectful to their boss and follow all of his orders. They worship at an altar featurin' a harigata and even the kanji on their jackets have double meanin's as sexual positions. Boss Omonshirobe has a bell given to his family by Tokugawa Ieyasu (in appreciation for their role in providin’ women to the construction crews who built up Edo in the early 17th century, keepin’ them happy and out of trouble). This symbol makes him all but untouchable to the local authorities and even extends his influence inside Edo Castle. In this he’s aided by the Bohachi women-a group of female bodyguards who put the ‘bush’ in ‘bushido’-or maybe not, since lead actress Hishimi Yuriko explains the use of maebari in her interview elsewhere on the disc. It doesn’t take long for the film to establish that there’s gonna be a lot of blood, violence, and severed limbs. And boobs. Oh, yes, there will be boobs. Even the actual DVD features a group of topless babes ringin' the edge against a black background, arranged so that it appears they are clustered around the viewer and lookin' down from above.

The film kicks off with a beautiful impressionistic swordfight on a bridge over the credit sequence involvin’ Shino and several samurai. The stark red lightin’ foreshadows the bloodlettin’ to come and casts the participants into silhouettes. The slow motion strikes by Shino cause shock waves that reverberate and form the credits. The cuts that dispatch his foes cause huge blood geysers, which like the shock waves also form words. As the last of his foes are cut down, real time and standard color photography kicks in as Shino is surrounded by police. Shino mutters to himself, “I tire of this”, and attempts to commit suicide by jumpin’ into the frigid waters of the river below. He awakens to find himself in the company of several naked women vigorously rubbin’ him down and pressin’ themselves to him. Their body heat has kept him from freezin’ to death after bein’ pulled out of the river. I think this scene demonstrates perfectly why the Japanese are among the most suicide-prone people in the world-with a potential payoff like Shino’s, it ain’t always such a bad choice. But no one saves a loser like Shino out of kindness-the boss of the Bohachi wants to use his murderous abilities in his latest scheme. The boss’s chief enforcer, Shirakubi Kesazo, gives Shino the grand tour of the Bohachi’s operation-includin’ the torture chamber where women are ‘conditioned’ to accept their new status as prostitutes. As his first mission, Shino is sent out to aid a Bohachi enforcer in collectin’ the daughter of a deceased samurai who is unable to pay off his debt. Shino slices her clothes off (ala Nemuri Kyoshiro) when she gets all uppity with him and knocks her around a bit for good measure. She’s spread eagled in the buff and put on display-to be bid on by the Bohachi’s perverted clientele. Shino is given 50 ryo by the Bohachi and told he might want to bid on the woman with it. He does so and wins-but then does nothin’ to her. He’s then informed that he’s failed what has been an elaborate test-the whole scenario was staffed by the Bohachi’s own people. Shino has failed for showin’ a conscience by not rapin’ her. As the actress who played the samurai’s daughter and her attendant begin to mock and laugh at Shino (especially at his favorite catchphrase-‘To die is hell-and to live is also hell’), he gets more than a little pissed and lops off one of their ears. He’s failed yet another test-he still has shame. The Bohachi turn him out and just to show there are no hard feelin’s, have arranged for him to be met outside by several dozen members of the local constabulary.  After Shino carves a large chunk out of their numbers, the fight comes to a halt when Boss Omonshirobe makes his entrance. He tells the cops that Shino is one of his men and that he’s just out of uniform-and then displays the Aoi crest of the Tokugawa to send them runnin’.

Shino is accepted by the Bohachi and taught (among other things) their sign language, which in many cases is based on rude bodily functions. There’s also a fantastic set piece where Shirakubi pits his gun against Shino’s sword-as Shirakubi pulls his gun, the action freezes and the screen fades to black except for Shino and himself. With time slowed to a crawl, Shino pulls off a lightnin’ fast draw that cuts Shirakubi’s gun in two-but only after Shirakubi has shot a Bohachi woman’s hairpin in half (his intended target). This sets up a likely showdown between the two later in the film. Shino’s then informed that the Bohachi’s operation in Yoshiwara is sufferin’ due to the many illegal brothels frontin’ as teahouses along with a plethora of free agent streetwalkers. Shino’s job is to carve up the customers, expose the teahouses, and kidnap the women-a task he sets to with relish. Soon, the teahouses find themselves empty, with their customers dead or scared off by displays of tied up nude samurai and illegal prostitutes bein’ paraded through the streets bearin’ placards that detail their humiliation. The Teahouse owners band together and attempt to raid the Yoshiwara in retaliation, but are stopped by Shino and the promises of the Bakufu to mediate in the dispute-just as Omonshirobe had planned.

Meanwhile, the best section of the movie is just gettin’ started. Shino is targeted for death by the Bakufu’s ‘Kurokawa men’ (ie, Ninjer) and is trapped in a ring of fire after a ninja disguised as a merchant spills his barrels of oil around him. Things look bad for Shino until the Bohachi women arrive, don firefighter cloaks, and put out the conflagration by rollin’ over the flames back and forth. They then ask Shino to cut off their burned clothes and strut around naked for the next ten minutes or so, pourin’ water over each other in the chilly weather just to make things a bit perkier. The girls are then set upon by the Nameless Kurokawa Master, who easily defeats them, but not before the ladies pull weapons from who knows where and engage him in what has to be the best cinematic display of naked fightin’ ever filmed. Nameless, havin’ seemin’ly gotten a bit excited when one of the gals jumped on his shoulders and encircled his head with her legs, decides to take them back to his place for some fun before killin’ them. But killjoy Shino breaks up his party before it has a chance to start and ruins his day. Nameless taunts Shino with his dyin’ breath, predictin’ his own betrayal and death before long.

We’re then treated to the Bohachi women (still nude) strippin’ and fondlin’ a Western blonde haired, blue eyed Catholic nun with big hooters. Why? No reason I can think of, but it sure looks great. In the same vein, Omonshirobe is holdin’ an audience with all his girls lined up in two rows to either side of the room. They’re there to give him his New Year’s greetin’, and also for no real reason, are doin’ it naked. We have a great photo of this same scene as shown in the remake (which the Brickster’s currently filmin’), which is available fer yer viewin' pleasure elsewhere on the site. In the meantime, Omonshirobe’s scheme has paid off-between his offerin’ a ‘reward’ for each illegal prostitute brought in and the Bakufu’s decision in the Yoshiwara/Tea House conflict (the former establishments and prostitutes will be allowed to set up in Yoshiwara-legally, and under the Bohachi’s power), the Bohachi have at one stroke largely eliminated the competition and acquired their women for next to nothin’. As a condition of the decision, however, Omonshirobe has to eliminate the wild Shino. This sets up an extended ‘opium’ sequence where Shino is given wine laced with opium along with a pipe full ‘o the stuff-and despite the fact that he knows why, he goes along willin’ly. After all, to die is hell-and to live is also hell. Goin’ out blasted and bein’ pleasured by the entire group of Bohachi women doesn’t seem like such a bad way. And just in case, the entire Bakufu police force is waitin’ outside to make sure. Is Shino whacked by the gals (in every sense of the word)? Does his duel with Shirakubi come off? Does Omonshirobe walk away the big winner or does he end up locked in a cage full of syphilitic, rottin’ sex addicts? And can Shino fight the Bakufu forces while stoned out of his mind? The final ten minutes of the film are perhaps the most entertainin’ you’ll ever see-while not quite as good as the concludin’ fight in ‘The Betrayal’ or ‘Azumi’, it’s still somethin’ to behold, and has some new wrinkles to throw both in plotline and action.

Like the Hanzo the Razor series, Bohachi Bushido delivers a straightforward jidaigeki film-and then adds a ton o’ extras guaranteed to please a male audience. The swordplay is outstandin’. Photography, set design, and costumin’ are all at the high standard that you would expect from a Japanese jidaigeki film made durin’ the ‘golden age’. Several set pieces are beautiful, surreal, and impressive enough that they would be at home in most art films (such as the openin’ bridge sequence, the sword vs gun battle, and the opium dream). Tanba turns in one of his best performances in what would be considered a throwaway role by many actors, and the other members of the cast give straightforward approaches rather than play their roles for comedy. Unlike many films that try to combine sex and violence with history (‘Ninja Vixens’ comes to mind), it’s not a low budget cheapie churned out with a no-name cast for a quick buck. It’s just like a regular period film-with the bonus of a lot of naked chicks runnin’ around.

The DVD even gives the red carpet treatment to the extras. The Main Menu is without a doubt the greatest yet seen in DVD history. There are more breasts, naked babes, blood geysers, flyin’ body parts, and swordplay on display in the menu than you’ll find in a dozen mainstream films put together. Even the on screen selector is a samurai sword! A subtitled commentary track by moderator Hayashi Yoshiki, film writer Sugisaku J-Taro, and director (not of this film, it should be noted) Nakano Takao captures the mood of the movie perfectly, attemptin’ at one moment to analyze the film while askin’ “Should we be so serious when there are breasts on the screen?” the next. It’s an energetic and funny yet informative commentary. There’s an interview with lead actress Hishimi Yuriko, featurin’ clips from her other roles in stuff like Ultra 7 and Godzilla Vs Gigan. As one might suspect, much of the interview revolves around nudity and how movie producers maneuver women into doin’ it. And Yuriko is still lookin’ pretty damn fine for bein’ over 60. Film geek/pinky expert J-Taro gives his take on Toei and the Pinky genre in an amusin’ interview filmed in his cramped secret lair. There’s a lengthy essay by Chris D. (who’s done a lot of the better commentary tracks on Pinky films) on the film, and a shorter one done by Mark Schilling tellin’ how he came to include Bohachi in an Ishii retrospective, bringin’ it back to the notice of the film world. Several pages from writer Koike Kazuo's Bohachi Bushido manga are reproduced as well (complete with English translations), with an emphasis on the sections adapted directly for the film. A photo gallery is short on shots from this film, but has a lot of  Tanba and Ishii on other productions and even reproduces several pages from Ishii’s personal shootin’ script (complete with handwritten notations). Finally, you get the original trailer along with several other trailers from films that are equally ‘out there’-includin’ a cornball Chinese period torture film that would have Kenny Swope salivatin’ and proclaimin’ the superiority of Chinese over Japanese methods. 

If you’re a true film aficionado lookin’ for a sensitive portrayal of the human condition, and a real ‘slice of life’-well, egghead, pack your bags and keep lookin’. But if you like an entertainin’ film loaded with nihilistic action, surreal set pieces, broodin’ ronin, slimy yakuza bosses, hard as nails women, great swordplay, crazy over the top effects, buckets of cartoonish gore, and gratuitous nudity constantly on display-it simply doesn’t get any better than this. If the Brickster could keep only one film NOT starrin’ Oshida Reiko, this would be the one. Along with the Hanzo the Razor series, it’s the top of the mountain-a five star classic that only gets better with each repeated viewin’.


What can you say about an Edo period revenge drama starrin’ a cross dressin’ dumpy old guy who squeaks out his lines in a creaky falsetto? Well, for one thing, you could say for certain it doesn’t star the Brickster. But despite the bizarre premise (or maybe because of it), Revenge of a Kabuki Actor (released as Yukinojo Henge,Yukinojo’s Transformation, in Japan) is a well done and entertainin’ work by noted director Ichikawa Kon. As many of you know, although Izumo no Okuni is traditionally credited with comin’ up with the concept of kabuki, it wasn’t long before the Shogunate deemed female actors to be too titillatin’ for the masses and required that all female roles be played by men. So here we have famed onnagata, Nakamura Yukinojo, who has come to Edo to showcase the style of kabuki put on in the Kansai-and to find the people responsible for the death of his mother and father. And wouldn’t you just know it-as luck would have it, two of the three bastards are sittin’ front row center at his first performance AND request an audience with him after the play. How convenient! Now, Yukinojo could just waste ‘em and call it a day. But he’s a lowly actor and not a samurai-he knows he has to be careful how he proceeds. Besides, his third target is still missin’ and there’s another hour and a half of movie to fill up. What makes this film intrestin’ is that Yukinojo doesn’t want to take the direct approach favored by most samurai films and slice the bad guys up himself. Instead, he puts into motion a plan that will see the evildoers turn on each other and experience the same type of betrayal, humiliation, and financial ruin they put his parents through-in effect, his revenge is in itself a stylized kabuki play.

Around this time, we’re introduced to Yamitaro (darkness boy). He’s a famous local thief who’s known as a type of Robin Hood character. Yamitaro takes a likin’ to Yukinojo (maybe because they’re both played by Hasegawa Kasuo), and acts as a sort of Greek Chorus for the kabuki actor throughout the film. Yukinojo eventually allows himself to be ‘convinced’ to appear for an audience at Dobe Sansai’s home. Sansai is one of the “Three Bastards” and his daughter, the young and gorgeous Namiji, has become infatuated with Yukinojo. Namiji is a favored concubine of Shogun Ienari and the source of Sansai’s staus and power. Sansai believes that if introduced to Yukinojo, his daughter will quickly tire of her infatuation and get back to puttin’ a smile on the Shogun’s face. The second of the three bastards, merchant Kawaguchi-ya, is a crony of Sansai’s and looks to use Yukinojo as his tool to increase his influence with Sansai. And the third bastard, merchant Hiromi-ya, looks to use Yukinojo as a source for information that will benefit his status and business. Yukinojo, meanwhile, knows all this and is busy manipulatin’ each of the three into a position that will pit them against each other. He does this by seducin’ Namiji, feedin’ Hiromi-ya false information, and lettin’ the selfishness and greed of his enemies take its course-the same greed and selfishness that led the three to frame his parents, ruin their business, and drive them to suicide years earlier. This leads to some interestin’ plot twists-for example, Hiromi-ya’s acts on information given by Yukinojo and imports massive amounts of rice into Edo (which had been experiencin’ a chronic rice shortage due to a bad harvest and speculation by other rice dealers). This results in Hiromi-ya bein’ praised by the Shogun and becomin’ the hero of the common people. Kind of a strange way for Yukinojo to get revenge, huh? But it just becomes the trigger for the downfall of another of his enemies, which in turn leads to Hirmoi-ya’s ruin as well. In the end, it all dovetails nicely, but not without some collateral damage and no one seems particularly satisfied once it’s done.

One thing you’ll notice about the movie is its all star cast-a lot of who have absolutely nothin’ to do with the storyline at all. We’ve already mentioned Hasegawa’s second role as Yamitaro, who generally is on the sidelines for the entire film. Ichikawa Raizo is virtually thrown away as Hirutaro (‘Daytime Boy’), a ‘rival’ of Yamitaro’s who yearns for greater fame and fortune. Raizo occasionally wanders into a scene and mostly plays the part for slapstick. Katsu Shintaro has a little more of a substantial role-he’s the akuso (wicked priest) Hojin who saves Namiji (the very sexy Wakao Ayako) from some horny passersby and eventually brings her together with Yukinojo before she dies from a fever. And lady thief Ohatsu (Yamamoto Fujiko) just seems to be there to act as a counter-chorus to Yamitaro. One of the Brickster’s faves, perennial genre character actor Date Saburo, also appears as Kawaguchi-ya. There’s a subplot involvin’ ronin Kadokura Heima (Funakoshi Eiji), an enemy of Yukinojo’s from a rivalry formed durin’ their sword trainin’ days at a dojo in Osaka-and ends up bein’ used by Yukinojo’s enemies. Even though (surprise, surprise) Yukinojo is also revealed as a master of swordplay, he shows his general disdain for overt violence by flippin’ his sword so as not to kill his foes.

The one thing that almost puts the stake through the heart of this movie is star Hasegawa’s age, along with his, shall we say, well fed look. Yukinojo is supposed to be this ephemeral, delicate beauty that captures the hearts of the audience members at a glance. However, he looks more like an Eastern version of John Wayne Gacy. It’s tough to suspend your belief to the point where you can buy into the concept that the ultra-hot Namiji is mesmerized by Yukinojo’s presence and looks. If they were castin’ for classic good looks that could ostensibly, maybe, sorta, pass for a woman, and fire up a kabuki fan’s heart, they should have cast Raizo in the title role instead. Hasegawa manages to salvage the situation, though, by turnin’ in a solid performance that really seems to capture Yukinojo’s internal turmoil-especially his regret over havin’ used Namiji as his pawn. And instead of righteously baskin’ in his triumph at movie’s end, instead Yukinojo quits his troupe and disappears into self-imposed obscurity. As always, Animeigo does a great job on the DVD with the translation, subtitlin’, and historical background. The film has won a lot of kudos for its cinematography and use of bold colors to dominate and set the tone for a scene as well. Overall, not a bad choice for a ‘samurai psychological thriller'. In the Brickster’s opinion, not quite the five star classic many film eggheads consider it to be-just a bit overrated, kinda like the reputation of Korean Admiral Yi Sun-Shin.


Well, the Brickster finally got around to watchin’ the Morning Musume 47 Ronin musical, Edokko Chushingura (Girls of Edo: Treasury of Loyal Retainers), after havin’ had it for about a year. Seems like I never had the three hours to sit down and watch the whole thing. I was expectin’ a regular cinematic musical, but this was a filmed stage performance of the musical Morning Musume put on in June of 2003 at the Meijiza. The group put the kabuki theatre walkways and lifts to good use in introducin’ characters, and as with most live theater, the performances were exaggerated and way over the top, makin’ them even better in my opinion. There were loads of regular actors and dancers in the cast as well, sendin’ the babe quotient of the production through the roof. Especially those kunoichi dancers. The dialogue is extremely rapid fire and the entire play goes at a frentic pace. Now, I WAS disappointed that the production wasn’t a traditional tellin’ of the 47 Ronin’s feudal drive-by of yore with an all-girl cast (who would be tougher than the historical Ronin were). So-just what was the plot?

After a rousin’ openin’ song and dance number (where the flexibility of gals in restrictive kimono is nothin’ short of amazin’ and you get a quick flash of the historical 47 Ronin), we’re introduced to Iseya Suzu and her sisters Yaya, Tsune, and En. Their dad Shinbei owns a small roadside restaurant, and they’re confronted by a large gaggle of gigglin’ gals wavin’ broadside sheets that herald the anniversary of the Ronin’s attack along with other news. When the adults in the group fill the youngsters in on the legend of the Ronin, the kids decide that puttin’ on a play based on Chushingura would be a good way to raise money for (presumably) the local clinic. However, Suzu’s dad isn’t at all pleased with their choice of material-he’s violently opposed to the entire subject of the Ronin. You can see where this is headin’, huh?

Meanwhile, up at Edo castle, Princess Adzukihime is bemoanin’ the fact that she’s held a virtual prisoner by the Evil Bakufu Retainer, Maekawa (who, like most bad guys, steals the show-he’s the ultimate slimeball who just revels in his behavior, kinda like an Edo period Snidely Whiplash). It seems the Princess is from a kuge family (although her retainers are samurai) and had been brought to Edo castle to marry into the Tokugawa. Maekawa is keepin' a tight leash on her as she's his charge and ticket to higher status. She just wants to hang out in the town and have fun like a normal girl. And with the help of her flighty ladies in waitin’ (comprised of the standard five hot babes and one old ugly fat one), she does just that. Her loyal retainer, the elderly Ji (well, his name is actually Nonohara, but nobody ever uses it), tries to hide the fact from Maekawa but is busted. Faced with seppuku, Ji sends out the ladies in waitin’ to find the Princess. Well, except for the fat chick, who decides it’d be more fun to stay behind and seduce the old guy. Ewwwwwwwwwww!!!!! Ji also calls out the clan’s kunoichi, who were the high point of the film for me. Morning Musume must have some kinda trainee pipeline group, because all three of the featured kunoichi (as opposed to the kunoichi dancers) were a good head shorter than anyone else in the cast. Still, they’re awfully cute in their little plastic day glo outfits and played for comedy. I gotta admit, after havin’ watched so many “Ninja Vixen” movies lately, it was a nice change of pace to see kunoichi that kept their clothes on the whole time. Tsukikage, Chacha, and Ranmaru (who really is a gal this time) always operate as a team and their sekrit ninpo skillz hardly ever work. They set out in clueless pursuit of the Princess.

As fate and the script would have it, Adzukihime strikes up a friendship with Suzu and her girlfriends. She even joins the cast of the play, but comes close to bein’ exposed when Sensei Sugita Genpaku (a famous historical doctor) from the clinic recognizes her. He keeps his mouth shut, though-bad choice for him. However, usin’ their high-tech ‘Princess Detector’, the clan kunoichi catch up at about the same time the ladies in waitin’ do. The ninja gals prove to be no match for the catty, bullyin’ behavior of the older women (who have decided to cover for the Princess) and resort to cryin’. Since the Japanese like things in sets of three, Maekawa and his merry band wander by as well. They were tipped off by the fact that Suzu’s little troupe was stupid enough to include the real name of the Princess on the printed broadsheets for the play. How they could tell, I don’t know, because the broadsheets are the exact same ones used in the openin’ scenes. But I digress. Since nobody’ll give up the Princess, Maekawa grabs En, declarin’ his intention to make her the ‘stand in’ for Atsuhime and will present her as such to the bakufu. When the Sensei tries to interfere, Maekawa strikes him down with a sword slash to the face.

While the adults in the cast are too frightened to raise a hand against the samurai, Suzu’s friends, the ladies in waitin’, the Princess, and the kunoichi all don their red sequined 47 Ronin wear and plan a raid on Maekawa. We also learn why Suzu’s dad reacts so violently to the 47 Ronin legend-he’s an ancestor of Horibe Yasubei, one of Asano’s most trusted retainers and a leader of the raid on Kira’s mansion. Horibe’s role in the raid and resultin’ seppuku left his family abandoned. The Ise branch gave up their samurai status and foreswore a life of violence, changin' their name to Iseya and becomin' shopkeepers. He refuses to aid Suzu, so the Edokko Chushingura brigade heads off alone after the ghost of Horibe appears to fill Suzu with resolve for her righteous cause. This bein’ fantasy an’ all, a group of totally unarmed women proves to be more than a match for swordsmen who have trained their entire life. The battle is the ultimate in surrealism, with left hooks that miss by three feet sendin’ samurai soarin’ through the air. En is rescued just as she’s ready to meet a fate worse than death-but things look bad for the girls when Maekawa decides he’s had enough and commands his samurai to get serious and start killin’ somethin’.

Of course, at this point, Suzu’s dad Shinbei shows up to save the day. He’s reclaimed his samurai heritage and is lookin’ to settle the score. Since this is, after all, a Morning Musume production, you know there ain’t gonna be the bloodbath one would normally look forward to at this juncture. Dad flips his sword in the best fashion of Wise Shogun Yoshimune from Abarenbo Shogun and cleans house with the flat of his blade, and Suzu takes out Maekawa with her signature “wooden bathtub broken over the head” technique. Everyone escapes and the Princess is returned to her castle, much to the relief of Ji. But wouldn’t ya just know it-Maekawa, when confronted with his evil deeds, informs the Princess that she musta’ dreamt the whole thing and she has no way to prove anythin’ other than the word of some unreliable peasants. Sensei shows up with his eyepatch and lipstick scar to put the kibosh on that idea, and the Princess orders Maekawa to be placed under arrest. He’s drug off stage sputterin’ and fumin’ in a most satisfyin’ manner. In a nod to the historical Ronin’s march to Asano’s grave at Sengakuji, the Edokko brigade solemnly files out of the castle, headin’ towards the back of the auditorium and biddin’ the Princess a final goodbye (since you just can’t have royalty mixin’ with commoners). Until a few seconds later when they all pop out from backstage to hang with the Princess and further vex Ji.

And once the stage play is done, the show’s just gettin’ started! The last half hour of the 2 hour plus DVD features a Morning Musume mini concert, with the girls doin’ their usual line up of songs. Now, it does become a bit creepy when you see that the audience is comprised of middle-aged Japanese men holdin’ up light sticks in lieu of lighters who are screamin’, hootin’ and hollerin’ over a group of teen girls-but that’s Japan for ya. You also get an ‘extra feature’-a 10 minute or so backstage look at the production, which proves to be funny and utterly charmin’. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how silly and goofy teen gals like to act, but it’s brought home here. Watchin’ the three Lilliputian ninja show off their version of ‘ninja stealth’ as they proceed down the hall towards the stage just can’t help but bring a smile to your face.

But the bottom line is-was the DVD entertainin’? You bet-light years better than the other Japanese history musical the Brickster’s seen (Stephen Sondheim's Bakumatsu-Meiji ‘Pacific Overtures’). I paid a nice chunk of cash to see that live, and it didn’t feature hordes of cuties and wasn’t nearly as funny as Edokko Chushingura. I’da loved to have seen this show live, but the DVD did a good job simulatin’ the experience. If you feel like takin’ a break from chanbara films filled with senseless killin’, ribald sexuality, and monsters and want a unique and amusin’ jidai-geki experience-this wouldn’t be a bad choice.

Hana (The Tale of a Reluctant Samurai) (2005) starts out like one of those borin’ “slice o’ life” wuss movies many critics gush over since, lackin’ lives of their own, they have to experience things vicariously through film. But its sense of humor and an elaborate deception put over on Shogunate officials towards the end of the film won over the Brickster. In a way, it exemplified the film’s oft repeated catchphrase-it ‘turned crap into mochi cakes’. It’s not a classic by any means, but an entertainin’ enough way to spend two hours.

The year is 1702, and pretty boy samurai Aoki Souzaemon (‘Soza’ to his pals, played by Okada Junichi) finds himself stayin’ in an impoverished slum in Edo while searchin’ for the killer of his father. He’s in much the same position as the Ako ronin (of ’47 Ronin’ fame), who are a couple of doors down and waitin’ to spring their ‘Kira Surprise’. Soza doesn’t seem to be in any big hurry-he’s been searchin’ three years and seems content to run his small school teachin’ writin’ to the villagers, loungin’ in the bathhouse with his friends, and hangin’ out with Osae (Miyazawa Rie), the sexy widow across the street. Maybe his lack of enthusiasm is attributable to the fact that his skills with the sword are not quite the samurai ideal-Soza at one point has the livin’ crap beaten out of him by an unarmed, bitter yakuza after bein’ put in a position where he has to draw his sword. But Soza sure can run like hell, as he shows when confronted by three samurai durin’ a performance of a revenge drama he’s helpin’ out with. These weaknesses only seem to endear him to his neighbors in the row houses, despite the fact that it makes him an outcast to most of his family (‘cept for one of his uncles who tells him his father wouldn’t want him to waste his life on revenge).

Throughout all this, the lives of the other row house tenants (rangin’ from fallen samurai to rag pickers and the village idiot) are explored, showin’ how even those with nothin’ can come to enjoy life. While this sometimes takes the film off course and drags it out (such as a bit showin’ just why Bitter Yakuza Guy is so bitter), it goes a long way towards makin’ the finale believable. And the Ako ronin make for an entertainin’ sideshow, as they fuss over their plans for revenge, show contempt for their own members, and are stupid enough to routinely tip their hand (“We’re just simple merchants, and have no connection at all with Lord Kira”).

But one day, Soza accident’ly runs into his father’s killer. After seein’ the man has a family and young child, Soza questions the morality of killin’ him. Even worse, the landlord of the rowhouses has plans to demolish the structures and turn out the tenants (since hardly any of ‘em ever pays their rent). The comfortable groove Soza has settled into looks as if it’s over. How to satisfy the honor of his family without gettin’ himself killed or leavin’ another family fatherless? How to keep the neighborhood together? More importantly, how to make sure the cute widow is still on the menu? Here’s where the film redeems itself-a scheme is hatched that, if successful, will take care of all the problems in one fell swoop. And the plan is simultaneously brilliant and ridiculous-somethin’ that would be cooked up on, say, my show, or Gilligan’s Island. It makes “The Sting” look like an amateur production, and it’s put into play in a hilarious over-the-top way. Does it work? Need you ask? But to truly appreciate it, it needs to be seen with no prior explanation. And the whole thing is capped off by the raid of the 47 Ronin on the same day, where an alternate explanation is given for how all those legends sprang up around what was just a glorified medieval drive-by.

Hana’s not for jidai-geki viewers lookin’ for swordplay, action, naked women, and shinin’ examples of bushido. But it’s good natured, funny enough, and a nice break from all the carnage and monsters usually found in the films I review. In fact, I think I’ll steal Soza’s revenge scheme for an episode of ‘Abarenbo Gaijin’-we call that a ‘homage’ in the entertainment biz.


Not only is Shinobi No Mono 3: Resurrection (BW, 1963) the best of the ‘Goemon’ trilogy that led off the eight film series, but it’s made even better by the fact that Animeigo was smart enuff to not include a wretched commentary track by Ric Myers this time around! No more hearin’ about how Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the best of the western ninja films, loads of factual errors, butchered Japanese names, boatloads of ninja legends floated as fact, or Myers singin’ his own praises as a self-proclaimed ninja expert. The story begins with Goemon bein’ led to the execution grounds after his failed attempt to assassinate Toyotomi Hideyoshi (whose army was responsible for the deaths of his wife, child, and friends) at the end of Shinobi No Mono 2. His fate? To be burned alive in a cauldron of boilin’ oil. Unlike the historical legends of Goemon (where he dies but saves his son by holdin’ him above the cauldron), here the thief is saved by Hattori Hanzo who pulls off the old victim switcheroo at the last minute. Hanzo feeds Goemon a line of BS about how he saved him because he didn’t want to see another skilled ninja die, but it’s clear that it’s because Hanzo’s lord Tokugawa Ieyasu wants Goemon to succeed and kill Hideyoshi. From here, Goemon embarks on a campaign of psychological warfare against Hideyoshi and his family and vassals. Spreadin’ false rumors, stealin’ war funds, kidnappin’ children and attempted rape are only some of the weapons used by Goemon to ruin the life of the Taiko. The film masterfully uses the historical difficulties arisin’ from Hideyoshi’s campaign against Korea and China in the 1590’s and shows how one man could have used them to undermine and dismantle the Toyotomi clan. The crownin’ touch leaves Hideyoshi’s nephew, the Kanpaku Hidetsugu (who already has incurred Hideyoshi’s wrath through rumor and innuendo), holdin’ the bag when Goemon steals all the war funds the day before an audit. Hidetsugu is advised to kill off Hideyoshi in order to save himself, but instead is ordered to commit seppuku when the Taiko hears of this scheme. What’s left is a clan in shambles-a sickly Hideyoshi and a child as his heir with Lady Yodo and Ishida Mitsunari on one side and Lady Nene (Hideyoshi’s legal wife) on the other with Tokugawa Ieyasu supportin’ her from behind the scenes. As Goemon is about to strike down Hideyoshi after havin’ infiltrated Fushimi Castle, he realizes that allowin’ Hideyoshi to live on would be a greater punishment. Seein’ his rule crumblin’ before him and in too much pain to do anythin’ about it, the terminally ill Taiko has little to look forward to except more heartache.

Star Ichikawa Raizo gives us a hero in Goemon who is at heart a decent man, but that commits many acts that sometimes make it difficult for the audience to accept him as such. Kidnappin’ an innocent child (Hideyoshi’s son and heir Hideyori) with an intent to kill him (and preparin’ to rape his mother Lady Yodo in the process) and settin’ up Hideyoshi’s nephew to take an undeserved fall is hardly the stuff legends are made of. Thankfully, the script (and history) prevents Goemon’s greater excesses from comin’ to fruition as his kidnappin’ and rape mission is interrupted. Raizo thrived on this sort of ‘bad boy’ anti-hero role (perhaps most realized in the Nemuri Kyoshiro ‘Sleepy Eyes Of Death’-yeah, yeah, I know jidai-geki fans hate that title-series). As with most Japanese films, the bad guys aren’t wearin’ the black hats and the good guys white-everyone is just in different shades of grey. As in most jidai-geki of the period, the performances of all the actors are top-notch, with Mishima Masao as the wily, smooth Ieyasu bein’ a particular standout. While there’s not much in the way of character development in this installment (that bein’ seen more in the first two), there’s plenty of ninja action and political intrigue to keep things involvin’.

Animeigo’s presentation of the film is excellent, with a sharp, crystal clear transfer in high contrast black and white. It features a good translation with easy to read subtitles. The extras are strong, with intrestin’ historical notes explainin’ the history behind the film and an interactive map of the locations it plays out in. Animeigo has seemin’ly emerged from releasin’ the borin’ low budget dreck of a coupla years ago (Demon Spies, Fearless Avenger, Shadow Hunters) and begun to concentrate on classics of the genre. Shinobo No Mono 3 was the high point of this series (Goemon’s endin’ exit into the fog presages the weaker direction the series was to take in upcomin’ installments with ‘Mist’ Saizo) and perhaps the best ninja film ever released (although I gotta admit Red Shadow is my sentimental choice). It belongs on any jidai-geki fan’s shelf.


 Kaidan Hyaku Shosetsu/Monogatari (on DVD as ‘100 Tales Of Horror’) is an excellent TV series that ran in Japan a couple of years ago devoted to period tales of the macabre. Now, lest you get the wrong idea, you ain’t gonna actually get 100 tales-the title refers to a book, but only 11 hour long episodes were filmed. However, they’re 11 of the most well known and effective Japanese ‘ghost stories’ of all time, includin’ several that have been adapted as movies over the years. ‘100 Tales’ gives each a fresh new spin, and does an excellent job of infusin’ them with humanity, depth, and feelin’. Rather than just trot out the creature of the week, the ghosts and demons here are as conflicted and torn by emotion as the humans they torment. Quite a few of the episodes brought tears to the ol’ Brickster’s eyes, most notably episodes 2, 4, 11, and especially 3. That ain’t to say there aren’t vengeful and hateful ghosts with lots of violence and killin’ on display-episodes 1, 5, 7, 8, and 10 have those (but even these beasts are tempered with all too human frailties). There’s even a largely comedic episode (9). And for fans of history, episode 6 has Oda Nobunaga bein’ killed with a silver bullet by Akechi Mitsuhide. There’s not a bad episode in the bunch-they have all somethin’ to offer. Effects are good, especially by the standards of Japanese TV, and the actin’ is almost uniformly outstandin’ throughout. The series is held together by a central character-the Onmyoji, Ashiya Dosan. Dosan is descended from a long line of Onmyoji goin’ back to the Heian era, and although he actually has some supernatural talent, he usually relies on connin’ the rubes in order to make a livin’. Sometimes he’s an integral part and a player in an episode (like 1, 7, 10, or 11) but in others he might only make incidental contact at the beginnin’ or end with one of the main characters. Dosan is played with gusto by Takenaka Naoto (a veteran character actor, who plays parts such as Kato Kiyomasa in Azumi). He shows excellent actin’ range-he’s cowardly, snivelin’, inept, doltish, brave, compassionate, wise, and commandin’ by turns as needed by the script and totally convincin’ in each instance. In other words, he comes across as a real person-not as a cardboard stereotype. And he ain’t afraid to go for the LCD and indulge in fart humor, either. Anyway, here’s a listin’ of the episodes with a short recap of each:

1) Yotsuya Kaidan-the classic much filmed ‘Ghost Of Yotsuya’. A samurai poisons his wife in order to marry another woman. The story is a bit streamlined and characters pared down from filmed versions, but the ghost here is an absolute badass.

2) Yuki Onna-the snow princess of yore, who spares the life of a young man and later marries him in human form. This time around she’s as much a victim as an aggressor. The aptly named Matsuyuki Yasuko makes for a chillin’ snow princess, conveyin’ not only the unholy power and presence of the demon, but also it’s human side.

3) Ubasuteyama-this is based on the famous Japanese legend of a town that sends everyone who has passed a certain age to a mountain to die, so as not to be a drain on society. This is the episode that really touched the Brickster’s heart. Asaka Mitsuyo and Yusuke Santamaria are nothin’ short of stellar in playin’ a mother and son that are makin’ the journey up the mountain despite the son’s efforts to have her spared. At one point the son is injured. If the image of a poor old crippled woman walkin’ to her death strugglin’ to carry her full-grown son on her back up the side of a huge mountain doesn’t get to you, ya must not have a heart. The woman gains a reprieve (or does she?) and helps her son avoid the wrath of his evil wife and the local insane magistrate. This episode also says a lot about the relationship most Japanese men have with their mothers, especially vis-à-vis their wives.

4) Banchosara Yashiki-This is based on the legend of the ‘dish counting ghost’ Okiku of the haunted well at Himeji Castle. Kimura Yoshino plays the harmless, lovin’ ghost of a servant woman who sacrificed her life (by deliberately breakin’ a family heirloom, an act she knew carried a death sentence with it) in order to spare her samurai lover the choice of remainin’ the heir or marryin’ her and bein’ cast out. Watchin’ her gentle soul contact Dosan for aid and then writhe in pain as he at first tries to exorcise her is pitiable.

5) Miminashi Hoichi-this is the famous ‘Hocihi The Earless’ segment from the 60’s classic film Kwaidan. Here, the story has the added kicker that Hocihi was actually a member of the Taira clan who betrayed his family. He is doomed by the ghosts of the Taira to tell their story throughout the centuries.

6) Werewolf-we start out with Akechi Mitsuhide leadin’ the attack on Honno-ji, loadin’ a silver bullet into an arquebus and killin’ Nobunaga. It seems the Demon King had acquired a bracelet infused with black magic from an Italian trader-a seemin'ly livin' bracelet that gave its wielder the power to realize his dreams by turnin’ him into a beast. The bracelet later comes into the possession of a meek swordsmith’s apprentice while he is workin’ to restore Nobunaga’s armor. Will the unwanted power of the bracelet help him realize his dream of marryin’ the smith’s daughter, or doom it?

7) Kaguya Hime-This is loosely based on the tale of the Bamboo Cutter’s Daughter. An elderly bamboo cutter stumbles across an unearthly beauty while cuttin’ (what else) bamboo in the moonlight. He and his wife adopt her, and she soon becomes sought after by the local nobles-all of whom she assigns impossible tasks that result in their deaths. Turns out she’s the reincarnation of the princess of the Earth Spider tribe-a tribe that had been wiped out by the nobles. When she falls in love with the Emperor, will she and her Earth Spider ninja carry through her plan to kill him? This episode has a great blend of action, horrific images, and pathos.

8) Ugetsu Monogatari-loosely based on the short story, and doesn’t have much in common with the classic film. A ragged man sits sealed inside a shrine, waitin’ out the fury of the demonic spirit of a jilted lover. Y’know, I think I might have tried that trick myself once or twice. It didn’t work for me. Will he have better luck, or will the deceptions and illusions of the spirit lure him out?

9) Ghost-This one’s played for laughs, and gets them. When a man’s wife dies, she just can’t stay away. The ghostly busybody continues to interfere, offer unwanted advice, and scare the crap out of those who try to take advantage of him. He gets fed up with her antics and tells her to leave for good-and finds himself missin’ her when she does, right at a time when he needs her most.

10) Kaidan Genji Monogatari-this one blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Dosan seemin’ly finds himself enmeshed in a tale bein’ written by a jilted lover of the infamous womanizer Brick Mc….err, Lord Genji. A terrifyin’ ghost wearin’ the Noh mask of the Oni attacks the Shinin’ Prince’s new lover over and over, and the attacks seem to stem from the unconscious of his jilted lover (could it be Murasaki?). Will the truth be uncovered? As one character tells Dosan, “You will just have to stay until the tale plays itself out”. This episode also has very nice horror imagery and lots of action.

11) Botan Toro (Peony Lanterns)-A couple in the Heian era see their love come to nothin’ when the man is killed in battle, despite his pledges of eternal love. Generations later, a powerful man notices that when his sickly daughter is around a local baker, she seems to gain strength and vitality. He arranges for the baker to spend time in her company daily, and under his care she becomes stronger and begins to enjoy life. No wonder-they’re the reincarnation of the Heian era couple. However, this is brought to a screechin’ halt when the baker is thrown out on his ass when she becomes part of an arranged marriage. The baker throws himself into his work and is stunned some time later when the daughter shows up one night for a little midnight lovin’. This goes on night after night, and the baker slowly becomes more haggard and drained. He finds out from a friend that the daughter had committed suicide some time ago rather than carry through with the arranged marriage, and Dosan is called in. He confirms she is now a spirit that is nightly drainin’ the young man’s life energy, and if it keeps up, he’ll die. The ghost simply doesn’t realize she’s dead-but will she stop her nightly visits? Now, the Brickster thinks this actually sounds pretty damn cool. What a way to go, eh? Just like Hanzo the Razor voiced at the beginnin’ of ‘Hanzo The Razor 3:Who’s Got The Gold’, “Hmmmmmmm…I’ve always wanted to do a ghost”. And as his two flunkies muse, “How could you? They don’t have legs!” followed by, “Well, they’d grow some once they saw what the Boss is packing!” It’s complex metaphysical questions like this that make the world of the supernatural compellin’. The episode has a nice coda when, in present day Japan, two wheelchairs bein’ pushed by orderlies meet on the lawn outside…

Anyway, 100 Tales Of Horror is one of the best efforts of its kind, and at about $18 for 11 hours worth of viewin’ pleasure is a real deal. Forego that next tired ‘noble ronin’ or ninja film and pick this baby up instead.


Another film followin’ along the lines of the jida-geki/kaiju film (albeit with more of a fantasy spin than SF) is Sakuya Yokaiden (2000-English title Sakuya, Slayer of Demons). Like a lot of kaiju films, this one’s aimed at a younger audience (as evidenced by star Ando Nozomi’s previous role in a Gamera film). And like a lot of Japanese films aimed at a younger audience, it’s got an obnoxious young kid along for the ride as well-but more on that in a minute. Anyway, like most films of this type, there’s enough action and effects footage to give the adults in the audience plenty to keep an eye on-not to mention the fact that Nozomi’s quite a cutie, even if her attempts at swordplay are pretty laugh-inducin’.

In a departure from your average Edo period film, we actually get a date on this one-1707. The wickedness of mankind (probably the drive-by pulled off by those rotten 47 Ronin a few years earlier) has caused the gods to desert Japan. This allows Mt. Fuji to erupt, spewin’ forth a multitude of demons that proceed to spread evil across the land. And of course, only ONE MAN can stop them-that bein’ Sakaki Yoshiaki and his magic soul devourin’ sword, Muramasa. Muramasa was forged by Tachibana Zennosuke, who invested it with the power to slay demons by strikin’ a deal with the dark forces-the sword will constantly feed on the life force of the user, who is always a member of the Sakaki family. The sword-wielder’s dwindlin’ life is measured by the candle Kinkeito, which burns down the more the sword is used. When Kinkeito is snuffed out, so’s the life of Muramasa’s handler. Seems like Yoshiaki’s candle ain’t Brick sized, since he’s wasted durin’ a fight with some Kappa (Japanese water demons). His heir, Sakuya (lookin’ all hot in shrine maiden garb), grabs the sword and finishes off her father’s murderer. She hears some cryin’ off in the reeds, and comes across what the Kappa were guardin’-a little baby Kappa. Sakuya takes pity on it and adopts it as her brother, givin’ him the name Taro.

Six months later, Taro is 10 ten years old. Yes, really. Unlike the bestial Kappa that Sakuya fought earlier, the only indication that he’s one is a greenish bald patch on top of his head. As we find out later, he can’t even swim. Sakuya must have been busy, since Kinkeito is well along the path to countin’ down her life. And she’s received a couple of visitors from the Shogunate-counciler Ii Naoki and Kuze Shigeyuki. Although this is never spelled out, seems that Shigeyuki has a thang for Sakuya, but he’ll have to stand in line behind the Brickster. Ii bemoans the aforementioned evil that has infested the land, and implores Sakuya to confront the evil at its source-the Kusanagi field in front of Mt. Fuji. Sakuya uses her mystical mirror Yaegumo No Kagami to check things out, and with a word to Zennosuke (who, while still alive, is little more than a creepy petrified statue that keeps watch over Kinkeito) heads out to Fuji with Taro in tow. Since a fantasy adventure wouldn’t be complete without Ninjer, the Shogunate also provides her with the services of Mashiragi Hyoe from Iga and Nigarasu Shuzo from Koga. These two are basically worthless, disappearin’ from the action for huge stretches of time, even durin’ the middle of fights they start off bein’ heavily involved in. They function mainly to bitch about how worthless Taro is and to be cannon fodder for the Spider Queen.

For the land bein’ infested by demons and polluted by evil, it sure seems to be paradise. There are lots of shots of Sakuya and Taro happily traipsin’ hand in hand through a gorgeous countryside filled with happy peasants-you’d think you were watchin’ a travelogue. But everyone disappears at night when the fog rolls in and the demons come out. Sakuya runs across many evil creatures, both human and demon. The human Puppet Master turns girls into tiny dolls, usin’ an airborne powder to convert them for his twisted pleasure. Sakuya’s in a quandary since she’s sworn never to use Muramasa to take human life (even though it would extend hers), which is obligin’ly solved when the demon werecat Kaibyou wanders on the scene and kills him for her. Sakuya is free to use Muramasa against Kaibyou, and makes short work of it. The next day, Sakuya and Taro are confronted with a large group of Yokai-but it’s OK, since they’re the good-natured creatures from the Yokai Monsters series of films from the 60’s. All yer fav’rits are here-among others, the hoppin’ umbrella with the long tongue, the big three eyed guy with the iron club, the big headed guy in the straw raincoat, the two faced woman, the blue wookie, demon fire, the lil’ shufflin’ blob, and the biwa headed woman. It appears they have nothin’ better to do than dance around and indulge themselves by havin’ a good time (sounds familiar), and Taro feels an attraction to them. However, Sakuya calls him back to reality and its back to their mission. When confronted with a swollen river, it’s revealed that Taro can’t swim-but he sure as hell can take a lightnin’ bolt to the head, as shown when he stupidly goes outside durin’ a thunderstorm. Think that seemin’ly useless talent might come in handy later?

That evenin’, they’re accosted by the zombiefied ghosts of vengeful samurai-the Onryoumusha. Sakuya and her two ninja take down three soldiers on foot, and in one of the film’s nicer sequences Sakuya is pursued throughout a village by an undead samurai on horseback wieldin’ a cross bladed spear. When he is finally dispatched, he and his speedin’ horse slowly transform into gallopin’ skeletons before dissipatin’ into smoke. While all this was goin’ on, Taro’s been kidnapped by a group of thugs the undead samurai had hired-and Sakuya is forced by Muramasa to slay them, breakin’ her oath but also extendin’ her life. The Ninjer twins trash talk Taro (even though they’re as useless as he is). The Spider Queen (who’s quite the exotic babe in her current form) takes advantage of Taro’s feelin’s of alienation, contactin’ him psychically and tellin’ him he should be among others of his kind. She berates humanity for havin’ killed her son on the plains of Kusanagi with a holy sword. This would make her son the eight headed serpent Orochi, who was killed by Susano-o with the sword Kusanagi. Susana-no-o in turn got his ass handed to him by yers truly on a weekly basis in Abarenbo Gaijin Season 2. Anyway, she cuddles Taro and tells him she wants him to be her boy. This is where you really know this is a kid’s movie, since the Spider Queen then bursts into song. For a crusty old evil demon, she proves to have a damn good singin’ voice, and an invisible orchestra along ta boot-she’s even better than the Mothra twins. Taro then wakes back into the harsh reality of the real world.

Anyway, Sakuya and her band of Ninjer slackers arrive at the Kusanagi plains and are surrounded by a group of Spidermen-not THE Spiderman, but the half spider-half human Jyorougumo. Sakuya makes short work of them, but just about the time she’s ready to strike down the Spider Queen, she’s knifed in the back by Taro-not only is he worthless, but a treacherous little bastard on top of it. The thought of bein’ betrayed by her brother hurts Sakuya more than the stab wound, and she haltin’ly tells Taro to take his leave and seek his happiness with the Yokai. He runs off screamin’, and it’s up to the Ninjer to buy Sakuya some time. By this time, the Spider Queen has transformed into a giant-we’re not talkin’ elephant sized giant like in Moon Over Tao, but Godzilla sized giant. When one Ninjer rocket fails to put a dent in the Spider Queen, the two proceed to pull huge complex mechanical parts out of their ass and produce a multi barreled rocket launcher-which of course, also does nothin’. One stomp from the Spider Queen later, its exit Ninjer-and that’s when the fun REALLY starts. The viewer is treated to an almost half hour of constant battle between the Spider Queen and Sakuya-it’s outstandin’, but durin’ the fight Kinkeito burns its last. Will this be Sakuya’s final hour?

If you like kaiju films, you won’t be disappointed. The endin’ battle is worth the price of the DVD, as the Spider Queen puts Sakuya through the wringer. The effects are top notch for a Japanese film. There are a couple of lapses (for example, the Kaibyou cat demon suit is laughably bad-and the Yokai Monsters are meant to look like their cheesy 60’s incarnation) but for the most part, you’ll buy into them. The gigantic Spider Queen probably gave a lot of Japanese kids nightmares, with her wildly billowin’ gown of rags swirlin’ wildly against the night sky, lookin’ as hellish as anythin’ Lovecraft ever dreamed up. There’s a nice mix of suit work with forced perspective and oversized props, and unlike a lot of kaiju movies, you get a very real and immediate sense of just how huge she is. There’s some nice camerawork that elevates the film above the pedestrian-the scene where Sakuya is pursued by the demon samurai on horseback through a town is shot from the rooftops, trackin’ not only her but also the paths of her Ninjer as they race along the roofs to help her out. The demon battles, shot at night, are appropriately moody and mist filled. Performances range from the cardboard (the Ninjer) to the professional (Ii and Kuze) to the annoyin’ (Taro). Star Ando Nozomi gives a somewhat uneven performance-she does an excellent job of portrayin’ Sakuya’s melancholy attitude towards her ever-decreasin’ lifespan (either that or she was depressed that this movie was filmed the year before the Brickster came to Japan), and really excels in the scenes where she is stabbed by Taro. And in her few moments of joy in the film, her smile’ll break your heart. However, she’s not really cut out for the action part-her swordplay is awful, and she never really projects the kind of aura/confidence you’d expect from a demon slayer. But to her credit, she can run like hell-she’s faster than the demon horse that tries to run her down. Someone musta liked what they saw, since she shortly got a part in another Yokai film (the weredemon thriller Kibakichi). The homage to the Yokai Monsters series and the Spider Queen’s song are little touches that give it a quirky appeal. Another welcome bit is when characters and items make their initial appearance, you get a heroic pose shot along with a on screen title card givin’ their name and function. Even the goofy footage that runs behind the endin’ credits (Taro doin’ a godawful dance with his Yokai buddies, mixed with Sakuya learnin’ swordsmanship from her dad) has its own charm. Sakuya Yokaiden is another fun film that’ll give you 88 minutes of solid monster action and entertainment.


 Moon Over Tao (1997) is a thoroughly enjoyable blend of chanbara, SF, and kaiju film. It has a little somethin’ for everyone (except the ‘My Dinner With Andre’ crowd) with a linear plot that doesn’t get bogged down in a lot of side stories or efforts to make it into a commentary on the human condition. It’s made to entertain, and it that, it succeeds admirably. Director Amemiya Keita has churned out loads of works involvin’ rubber suited monsters and keeps things solidly on track throughout. As our story begins, Monk Suikyou is seen tryin’ to win entrance to the castle of daimyo Asami Tadaoki. He’s turned away by the ashigaru at the gate, but after whippin’ out his wooden Sengoku memo pad with attached pen, he slaps together a magic charm that he places on the soldier’s head, forcin’ him to guide him to the daimyo. Asami, meanwhile, is showin’ off his latest acquisition to his master swordsman Hayate. It’s a sword that not only can effortlessly cut through solid stone, but will instantly repair any damage done to it in the process (as Hayate finds out when he is given the sword to test). Suikyou has wandered onto the scene by now and we find that he was once Lord Asami’s strategist. The monk has visited Asami because he’s had a vision where Asami’s retainer Jitsukaga has called out to him for help. Asami tells Suikyou that Jitsukaga procured the miracle sword from bandits, but has since disappeared. Asami wants to obtain more miracle swords for use in battle, and dispatches Hayate to find the bandits that own them. Suikyou attempts to set out on his own to find Jitsukaga and the swords, but is confronted by Hayate and agrees to operate as a team.

The two set out for a steep mountain that is known to be a stronghold held by bandits. There they meet Renge, one of those adorable but precocious Japanese idols-in-trainin’. Renge has lost both of her parents and despite bein’ a child ekes out a livin’ on her own. She warns the two to be careful since the area is crawlin’ with bandits. Later that evenin’, Suikyou indirectly tells Hayate that the miracle sword carries the seal of a former associate of his-the evil cleric Kakugyou, whose magic powers are even greater than Suikyou’s.

The film takes an abrupt turn in the next scene which features three aliens teleportin’ down from the heavens-and in an amazin’ coincidence you’d swear was scripted, land right outside Renge’s house. They all wear tight black outfits and goofy divin’ helmets filled with slime, which it seems are just there for show since when they’re removed they have no trouble breathin’. The same actress plays all three-Abika, Marien, and Kuzto. Marien has black hair, Abika white, and Kuzto black and white-kinda the whole yin/yang thing, which must be the point here. The three seem to have some difference of opinion over a weird lookin’ device that looks like a tunin’ fork-the Tao. Kuzto sustains a fatal wound in the struggle, and when the other two fall off a cliff and exit stage right for now, passes the device on to Renge (who has come out to watch the fun) while also brandin’ her hand with a tat in the process. The alien passes on the knowledge that they are seekin’ the Makaraga-some mysterious super-weapon that has ended up on Earth. Kuzto tells Renge to give the Tao to whichever of the others survives.

The next mornin’, bandits returnin’ from a raid on a village run across Renge. They steal her knife and begin to drag her off for more nefarious purposes. However, Hayate and Suikyou wander by, enter the fray, and defeat the bandits handily (even with the bad guys havin’ miracle swords-one of which is captured by Hayate). Renge agrees to take Hayate and Suikyou to the bandit camp if they’ll help her regain her knife (a keepsake given her by her Grandfather).

Here they’re ambushed by Kakugyou and his horde of armed goons. Kakugyou touches Renge and instantly learns the entire truth behind a mysterious orb that’s in his possession. They take our heroes into custody. In the obligatory ‘bad guy reveals evil plan and backstory while entertainin’ his enemies’ scene, Kakugyou tells them that he has produced dozens of miracle swords usin’ the metal from a meteor found nearby. After all the metal was used, he was left with his weird lookin’ ridged white orb. He instructs his goons to take Hayate and Renge away while he has a chat with Suikyou. He tries to get the monk to join him, but Suikyou refuses. Suikyou demands to know where Jitsukaga is, and it turns out he’s been drinkin’ with him-literally. His sake cap is the covered skull top of his friend. Well, now, what better excuse for a display of magic powers? Kakugyou and Suikyou engage in metaphysical combat that gives a whole new dimension to ‘shadow boxin’’. Suikyou ends up on the losin’ end and barely gets away when he uses up his entire magic memo pad to distract Kakugyou.

Elsewhere, aliens Marien and Abika have come to and continued their battle. Marien wins out but commands her cute ‘lil healin’ robot to fix up Abika while she goes in search of the Makaraga. She effortlessly battles her way through Kakugyou’s bandits and enters his fort just in time to meet up with Hayate and Renge, who have overpowered their captors and found the storehouse of miracle swords. Renge gives Marien the Tao as she had been told to by Kuzto. They’re soon joined by Suikyou with Kakugyou close behind-now that everyone’s here in one place, the fun’s about to begin in earnest. There’s a huge pitched battle in which Marien is injured by a monstrous crossbow and loses the Tao. Suikyou manages to draw blood from Kakugyou, and when this drips onto the evil cleric’s orb, it begins to pulse with life. Kakugyou gets a sudden inspiration, grabs one of his men, and cuts his throat, saturatin’ the orb with blood. It begins to transform, and sucks Kakugyou’s life force from him. It swiftly grows into a huge weird lookin’ large headed scuttlin’ creature-the Makaraga. Not Godzilla huge-more like elephant huge. It goes on a crazy spree of slaughter, tearin’ through Kakugyou’s men amidst buckets of flyin’ blood, gore, and body parts, gettin’ larger and uglier all the time. While this is goin’ on, the good guys make it to the safety of the weapons storehouse, where Marien tells them that the Makaraga was an ultimate weapon developed by her people that soon became uncontrollable, was encased in metal, and cast out of their world (sounds exactly like the ‘Doomsday’ storyline from ‘Superman’). This is the same meteor Kakugyou found and stripped the metal from to make his miracle swords-exposin’ the beast and givin’ it an opportunity to be resurrected. Her and her friends were lookin’ fer it-Marien presumably wanted to keep it out of the wrong hands, but Abika wanted to use it to start a revolution back on their planet. Marien dies after tellin’ them the Tao (which she lost in the fight, as you’ll recall) can control the beast. Suikyou runs out and retrieves the magic cure-all-but wouldn’t ya just know it, the damn thing doesn’t work for him. Renge realizes that only she and her mystical body art can activate it-but as luck and the script would have it, the Makaraga ends up swallowin’ the Tao durin’ the battle. Oops.

Now with seemin’ly no way to fight the beast, the group receives some help when Abika appears on the scene. Moved by Marien’s compassion and self sacrifice, she no longer wishes to use the beast for her own ends. Abika fends off the Makaraga while Hayate and Suikyou return to the fort’s courtyard to throw together a trap. When the time is right, Abika lures the Makaraga back to the courtyard. Hayate and Suikyou fire upon it with two miracle swords launched from massive crossbows. Ropes tied to the swords hold the Makaraga in place while a large cart loaded with the fort’s gunpowder is rolled under it. The ugly beast is blown to smithereens, with a rain of meaty body parts peltin’ our heroes. Movie over, right? Well, not really-seems like nobody has been payin’ attention to the script, even Abika, who really oughta know better-the Makaraga can only be killed with the Tao. And wouldn’t ya know-it seems like Kakugyou ain’t quite dead yet either. What to do? The film is wrapped up tight with all the loose ends taken care of (hell, the fabled Jitsukaga even participates), but not without some casualties in the ranks of the good guys-but for that, you’ll have to go see the film yourself.

Moon Over Tao is a perfect example of how the Japanese manage to take B Grade films and turn them into rock solid productions that look far better than their budget would indicate. The cast turns in believable and likable performances, with my favorite bein’ genre vet Abe Hiroshi as Hayate. It makes great use of actual settin’s with some gorgeous scenery on display. Sets and costumin’ are top quality, and the photography is sharp, clear, and unpretentious. The script doesn’t have the myriad of holes that movies like this usually are full of. The effects are good for a Japanese film-there’s some nice stop motion involvin’ the Makaraga, a dyin’ art in today’s world of CG. OK, the Makaraga does look like a big pull-toy in a few scenes and for all intents and purposes seems like a leftover prop from ‘Gojira Tai Destoroia’. But hey, the discriminatin’ viewer WANTS some old school cheese with his kaiju film. Other effects are quite good, as when the ‘fat goddess’ appears to ruin the Makaraga’s day. The only thing the film lacks in the Brickster’s opinion are more scantily clad buxom babes. What’s a bandit encampment without ‘em? If you’re lookin’ for an hour and a half of entertainin’ fun, Moon Over Tao is a winner.


The Brickster has to say that he was somewhat disappointed with Kaidan (2007). It started off well with a black and white sequence usin’ stylized abstract sets, and told the story through narration from an old Buddhist monk. It brought to mind the classic 60’s horror anthology Kwaidan. But all too soon it reverts back to color and straightforward storytellin’ and there the similarity ends. Rather than bein’ a remake of Kwaidan, it’s actually an extended remake of Nakagawa Nobuo’s classic 50’s ‘Ghosts of Kasane Swamp’.  The first hour or so is pretty much the same as Nobuo’s film-you can skip down a review or two to catch the plotline from the Brickster’s review of ‘Ghosts of Kasane Swamp’. Sure, there’s a few differences-most notably, here Shinkichi is directly responsible for scarrin’ his lover Rui’s face with a plectrum (accidentally durin’ an argument). There’s also no shady ronin character out to further his own interests as in the original. But the gist is pretty much the same-jealous samisen teacher Rui’s face gets scarred and infected, Shinkichi decides to seek greener pastures in the arms of one of her students (Ohisa), Rui dies, returns as a ghost, and tricks Shinkichi into killin’ Ohisa at Kasane Swamp-the same swamp her murdered father was dumped in after bein’ killed by Shinkichi’s father in the prologue. But in this version, Shinkichi survives to screw up even more in the remainin’ hour.

Shinkichi settles back down in his home town, and gets a job workin’ for a local merchant. While there he meets Rui’s sister and begins to develop an attraction to her-but that’s cut short when the daughter of the merchant Shinkichi works for decides he’s the man for her. Shinkichi at first declines the merchant’s offer of his daughter in marriage, but when a snake drops onto her and causes her to fall into a cookin’ fire, burnin’ her face (in the exact same spot as Rui’s injury), he feels a pang of guilt and marries her. She becomes pregnant and they have a child-a strange boy that has a birthmark over his left eye (again, where Rui was injured)-a baby that never cries. The kid has a tendency to stare at Shinkichi, givin’ him the creeps. He also exhibits a propensity for meltin’ away into a big pile of snakes. This naturally enough sends Shinkichi into bouts of depression. He begins to neglect his family and hang out in the local house of prostitution. One night, he is confronted by the house’s samisen player-she has evidence that Shinkichi killed Ohisa all those months ago at Kasane swamp. She demands 100 ryo, and Shinkichi steals it from his father-in-law. Well, half of it, anyway-and while the two are bickerin’ about the amount, who should come strollin’ along but Shinkichi’s father-in-law, who has discovered the theft and is royally pissed. There’s a bitter struggle that’s won by the older man, but he takes the high road and only casts Shinkichi out of his family instead of killin’ him. Big mistake. The samisen player kills the father-in-law, takes the cash, and splits.

Shinkichi returns home in a panic. He comes across his wife and child. His eerily starin’ son threatens to overwhelm what little sanity he has left-and then Shinkichi finds that the boy has died when flies begin to emerge from his mouth. Ohisa (yes, Ohisa, not Rui) then emerges from the ceilin’, lookin’ for revenge, but Shinkichi manages to kill her-but finds out he’s been duped by a ghost again and has actually strangled his new wife. He then takes it on the lam, but the samisen player leads the local authorities straight to him-and in a very nicely done extended fight scene, Shinkichi manages to kill or injure every one of his assailants, albeit sustainin’ grievous wounds in the process (includin’ a stake to the shoulder that’ll make ya wince). He stumbles across Rui’s sister, who, still havin’ feelin’s for him (not to mention bein’ the lone survivin’ cast member) loads him into a boat and paddles him to safety-the dubious safety of Kasane swamp, where everythin’ will soon be resolved…

You’da thought that the director of Ringu, Nakata Hideo, coulda’ done a lot more with this film. There’s at least one great startle moment, but for the most part it’s totally lackin’ in atmosphere, suspense, and scares. Instead, you get a buncha CG snakes, phony lookin’ optical work, and the goofiest endin’ I’ve seen in a Japanese film in quite some time (even though I’m always a supporter of introducin’ severed heads into a film). The much more subtle and creepy alternate endin’ shown in the extras is far more satisfyin’. The film really suffers from the male lead-Onoe Kikunosuke as Shinkichi. He sleepwalks through the film, rarely displayin’ any emotion at all, and displays none of the humanity, guilt, or likeability that the character requires. No one would EVER believe this plain lookin’ cold fish would be such a hot item among the ladies. Compare it to the performance turned in by the actor who played Shinkichi in the Nakagawa version of Kasane-it’s night and day. Kikunosuke is another in a long line of kabuki actors that don’t seem to be able to convert their success to the world of cinema. Sound, music, sets, photography-all are of the adequate, but nothin’ special variety. That pretty much sums up the film as a whole-adequate, but nothin’ special, and a pale shadow of Nakagawa’s version.

One more thing that should be noted is that this film is a prime example of where dependin’ on subtitles gets you. The reviews written in English for this film all seem to complain that the openin’ prologue has nothin’ to do with the rest of the movie-but it does, in a major way. While it’s never really spelled out by the characters or dialogue, Rui is the daughter of the masseur who is murdered tryin’ to collect a debt from a samurai-and Shinkichi is the son of that samurai. You’d only know this if you pay attention to the Buddhist funerary tablets that show up throughout the film (and can read Japanese). In one of the film’s better touches, the tablets are used to seemin’ly stage silent protests to Shinkichi and Rui’s relationship-at times topplin’ over to indicate bad things are on the way. Just one more reason for fans of Japanese cinema to get busy polishin’ their language skills.


A late challenger (on DVD) to ‘Machine Girl’ for the Brickster’s film of the year is the bizarro mesterpiece Oneechanbara (2008). This film has everythin’ in it the discriminatin’ filmgoer could want-zombies, mad scientists, blood, decapitations, senseless violence, flyin’ heads, loads ‘o swordplay, lotsa bad CG, hot chick wieldin’ swords in schoolgirl uniform, even hotter chick wieldin’ sawed off shotgun in skintight black leather, hottest check yet wieldin’ swords in cowboy hat, boots, and bikini, and-just fer laughs-a blonde haired cowardly fat guy along for the ride. Yep, this one gives you yer yen’s worth, and delivers where it counts.

The film is based on the Oneechanbara series of video games (of which the Brickster has all 6), and like most movies based on games is short on story and long on fightin’. Aya and her portly pal Kamiya wander the zombie infested streets of the 21st century lookin’ for Aya’s little sister Saki. In order to protect herself from the hordes of slaverin’, droolin’, fightin’ mad zombies Aya dons her cowboy boots, hat, hot red satin bikini that looks more like underwear, and a feather boa. Why Aya chooses this particular ensemble is never explained, but at least it’s better than the bondage gear that you see in crap like Mad Max. Aya occasionally dons a serape to give her that Clint Eastwood ‘Man With No Name’ vibe, and reinforces this by hardly utterin’ a word the entire movie. While she’s fightin’ a horde of zombies and Kamiya is doin’ his best to hide, they’re joined by Reiko-a motorcycle ridin’ chick in black leather with a sawed off shotgun who blasts her way through the undead. You know this is a video game movie since that double barreled sawed off shoots solid slugs, has no recoil, and can shoot hundreds of rounds without havin’ to be loaded. Good thing, too, since there’s obviously no room in Reiko’s leather outfit fer ammo. Reiko knows where Aya’s sister is and uses this knowledge to enlist her aid in killin’ Dr. Sugita, the dumbass who’s responsible for the whole undead mess. Reiko, Aya, and Kamiya walk off to find a place to sleep for the night-Reiko has seemin’ly forgotten that she has a motorcycle and helmet since you never see them again. From the Brickster’s experience, on a low budget film like this that means they probably had to give it back to the guy in the prop department who owned it.

Kamiya and Reiko exchange back stories. Kamiya’s sister was also killed by zombies and Reiko’s daughter was as well. Kamiya tells Reiko that Aya’s sister Saki killed their father (under orders from Dr. Sugita) and Aya is lookin’ for some payback. Kamiya has never seen Aya smile or cry (although she’ll predictably do both before the end of the movie). While closin’ in on the nutty perfesser’s lab, Reiko rescues a small child, Maria. Why bring a kid in on this? Why, because kids make excellent hostages! Dr. Sugita turns Kamiya’s sister (who it seems wasn’t dead after all, but is now) into a ball and chain wieldin’ zombie and sets Saki after Aya. Kamiya manages to destroy his undead sister and confesses he had run off and left her to die instead of fightin’ to save her like he had claimed. Saki takes Maria hostage and carves her up before retreatin’ back to zombie central. Reiko stays behind to comfort the child (who’s also been infected by a zombie) while Kamiya and Aya enter the ruined factory of Dr. Sugita, where they’re faced by an army of trench coated zombies (which brings some disturbin’ images to mind, but let’s forget that for now). Fat guy sets out to kill Dr. Sugita. Aya engages the hundreds of zombies in combat, with Saki waitin’ at the end of the gauntlet. And what the hell happened to Reiko? By now, I’m sure the suspense is killin’ ya, so go out and buy this classic fer multiple viewin’s (so’s you can catch all the subtleties).

The high point of the film is, of course, the zombie-killin’ action. There’s lots of swordplay and shootin’, with blood and body parts flyin’ everywhere, includin’ sprayin’ the screen in virtually every scene. With all the CG, it’s literally a video game come to life. Fer all that, it’s incredibly fun to watch. Reiko walks through a crowd of zombies flippin her gun around like a baton and shootin’ from every conceivable angle. The swordplay is frentic and wild with liberal doses of glowin’ swords and projectiles added. The blood geysers that erupt when Aya pulls off her spinnin’ 360 degree version of the ‘full moon cut’ are enough to bring a smile to any gorehound’s face. The climatic sword duel between Aya and Saki at the end is set up just like a classic jidaigeki film-and then goes absolutely insane with wire work, super speed, and energy fields. Think Azumi, only 100 times more unrealistic, but kewler. And by a chick in a bikini, who never, EVER, loses her cowboy hat.

Despite this challenge, Machine Girl still holds its position as film of the year. It has a greater variety of warped and depraved bad guys and much bigger doses of over the top humor and insane scenarios. Oneechanbara doesn’t have anythin’ that can quite rise to the level of Machine Girl’s Yakuza Ninja Squad, Drill Bra, or Tempura Arm-and Machine Girl also has the advantage of usin’ mostly old school mechanical FX rather than CG, givin’ it a much more visceral feel (and an edge in cheesiness to boot). Still, though, comin’ in second to an all-time classic is nothin’ to be ashamed of. Hell, why not make it an Oneechanbara-Machine Girl double feature for yer viewin’ pleasure this holiday season? Gotta beat the hell outta ‘It’s A Wonderful Life”.


Kaidan Kasane Ga Fuchi (1957, US title Ghosts of Kasane Swamp) is another period horror film from the Brickster’s favorite director, Nakagawa Nobuo. Unlike a lot of Japanese films, this one has a really short runnin’ time-it weighs in at a lean, mean 66 minutes. And also unlike a lot of Japanese horror films, it hits the ground runnin’-the first ten minutes looks like the last ten minutes of a lot of its brethren. Blind masseur Soetsu visits samurai Fukami to collect a loan made the previous year. Not only is Fukami not payin’, he gets pissed at Soetsu fer askin’ and slices him up. Fukami orders one of his servants to get rid of the body, and poor Soetsu is packed into a trunk and unceremoniously dumped in the brackish waters of Kasane swamp. The servant, sympathetic to Soetsu, places a sickle on the trunk before dumpin’ it so Soetsu can defend himself against demons in the next world. Fukami shows no remorse, even refusin’ to let his wife attend Soetsu’s memorial service. He orders her to give him a back rub, and in the midst of this, he turns around…only to see the bloody corpse of Soetsu doin’ the honors. Fukami hasn’t watched enough Japanese horror movies, since he draws his sword and attempts to kill Soetsu again, but ends up killin’ his wife instead (it’s the old ghostly misdirection trick of makin’ yer target see you where their loved one is). With her dyin’ breath Fukami’s wife tells him to “Fear the hatred of the dead” and entreats him to turn himself in to the magistrate. Instead, Fukami sets off after the ghost of Soetsu, who draws him closer and closer to Kasane swamp. Before he realizes it, Fukami finds himself gettin’ sucked down into the morass and disappears under the water. Ghostly revenge mission accomplished. You could stop right here and have a complete ten minute movie.

But wait! Both Fukami and Soetsu had children. Fukami’s son Shinkichi is dropped off at a local merchant that owed a favor to his father and is raised as a servant. Soetsu’s daughter Rui becomes a samisen teacher. And it just so happens that she’s the teacher for Hisa, the daughter of the merchant family. And Shinkichi is Hisa’s servant. You can see where this is headin’. Things are a big mess, because Rui loves Shinkichi, Hisa does too, Shinkichi wants ‘em both (good man!), Hisa’s engaged to another merchant in a prearranged marriage, and samurai Omura (played by a glowerin’ Tetsuro Tanba) has the hots for Rui. Pretty clear that this will not end well. Hisa’s a spoiled, immature, but charmin’ and adorable little cutie (kinda like Ko). She’s a hottie and turns out to have a good singin’ voice as well. After a recital at Rui’s, she forgets her music book and Shinkichi returns to retrieve it. He’s confronted by Rui’s infatuation with him and like any normal guy, forgets about the samisen music book and works on refinin’ his technique with the skin flute. When he saunters home the next mornin’, he’s booted out by Hisa’s bitchy mom who sees this as a perfect excuse to get rid of him (so’s he ain’t distractin’ her daughter from the arranged marriage). He ends up back at Rui’s, whose servant eventually discovers that he’s the son of the man that killed Rui’s father. She tries to warn Rui off, but of course, Rui ain’t listenin’.

While tryin’ to open a dresser to get a robe for Shinkichi, Rui knocks a samisen plectrum off the top and gets hit on the head with it. Personally, I’ve never thought of a plectrum as a deadly weapon that hideously disfigures someone and brings them to the brink of death, but I suppose there’s a first time for everythin’. Shinkichi at this point wants to run off with Hisa, but doesn’t want to leave Rui while she’s sick. He’s talked into it by samurai busybody Omura, who was earlier rebuffed by Rui and wants to see her suffer-not to mention he’s got his eye on the 50 ryo that he encourages Hisa to steal from her mom to set her and Shinkichi up. Omura rubs Rui’s face in the situation and she catches Hisa and Shinkichi together at a local teahouse. She tries to kill ‘em both but only manages to fall down the steps and really screw herself up. Later, she smacks the disfigured side of her face on a cabinet, falls down, and dies.

Well, it seems that love triangle is solved. But as Hisa and Shinkichi run off to his hometown, they are directed towards Kasane swamp by someone who looks a lot like Rui’s dad Soetsu. They arrive to find that they ain’t been watchin’ enough Japanese horror movies either…

Obviously, this film borrows heavily from the classic Ghost of Yotsuya story (which Nakagawa also filmed), particularly in Rui’s disfigurement and the misdirection tactics of the ghosts. The movie itself reminds me of the atmospheric Universal monsters films of the 30’s and 40’s. The moody black and white photography combines with some creepy sets to make Kasane a spot that no one would want to visit. The shots of the disfigured ghost of Rui standin’ atop the fouled waters, slouched with her head akimber, will run a chill down your spine. Nakagawa subtly introduces elements that don’t pay off until much later (like the sickle placed upon the crate Soetsu was dumped in). Combined with a discordant score that features many jarrin’ and unrelated sounds (somethin’ Nakagawa was well known for), it creates a world where the supernatural is completely acceptable. Typically as found in Japanese horror, virtually the entire cast dies, but in a nice touch there’s Nakagawa’s signature ‘redemption’ shot at the end, where three of the largely blameless characters caught up in events are shown enterin’ the Pure Land.

Not to say there ain’t some laughs along the way….I was howlin’ when Shinkichi attacked the ghost of Rui only to find that it was someone else-and kept doin’ it over and over, like he totally forgot everythin’ that had happened five seconds ago. And whoever was doin’ continuity wasn’t watchin’ Rui’s makeup, as her disfigurement changes wildly from shot to shot both in extent and execution, and by the end of the film looks like somethin’ a third grader put together with oatmeal and the Dick Smith Monster Makeup Kit. Still, it’s a rock solid example of early Japanese horror from a legendary director. Well worth seekin’ out and addin’ to yer Nakagawa collection.


Imprint (2005) was originally shot as part of the ‘Masters Of Horror’ cable package, a series of one hour horror shorts put together by some of the most storied names in dark moviemakin’-Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, and Dario Argento bein’ some of the all-stars involved. The idea was to give them complete creative freedom, allowin’ them more latitude with violence, gore, and sex than is usually given to cable shows. However, as always, there’s gotta be one guy that has to take that latitude and jump overboard with it. This time around, it was Japanese director Miike Takashi. Miike was included as a nod to Asian horror by Producer Mick Garris, and was even allowed to film his episode in Japan while the rest of the dozen or so were all shot in British Columbia. Miike’s final product was so bizarre and over the top that Showtime refused to air the episode-relegatin’ it instead to a DVD release.

In the Brickster’s estimation, it wasn’t that Imprint is too violent or twisted in its scenes dealin’ with torture-and there’s only a brief topless shot as far as the sex angle goes. Nope, it was the scenes featurin’ abortions and the consequent disposals of still wrigglin’ fetuses torn from the womb and bein’ chucked in the river to die that did it in. Doubtlessly, Showtime had visions of Bible-belt pro-lifers convergin’ on their offices, stampedin’ through the doors, and showin’ their love of the holy word of God by lynchin’ everybody inside.

And since it’s a Miike product, it’s totally f’upped to begin with. The Brickster ain’t a big fan of voyeuristic violence for the sake of violence, and Imprint delivers those goods in a big way. The story is abstracted and incomprehensible to the point of makin’ your brain hurt tryin’ to come up with a coherent plot. Maybe it ain’t quite as nonsensical as Miike’s Izu, but that’s due to the fact that he only had an hour to work with here.

For what it’s worth, Imprint opens with Christopher Karges (Billy Drago), an American journalist, lookin’ through the worst whorehouses in early Meiji Japan for his lost love Komomo. He promised her years earlier he would return and ‘take her away from all this’, and unlike most guys he’s actually followin’ through. Christopher doesn’t find her, but is talked into spendin’ the night at a local brothel by a pimp. There he meets a woman. She’s known throughout only as ‘Woman’ and is played by Kudoh Youki, who was ‘Pumpkin’ in ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and has had parts in lots of American films. Seems she’s the ‘go-to’ girl when American filmmakers decide they want to use a Japanese actress for a Japanese part, since apparently she’s the only one that knows how to speak English aside from Shimada Yoko (who while still lookin’ fine in her recent nude pictorials, is gettin’ a bit old). I’ll give the production credit for shootin’ in Japan while usin’ Japanese actors for all the parts, but havin’ ‘em speak English contributes to a lot of unintentional hilarity (although it also adds to the nightmarish quality of the episode). And ‘o course, they shoulda used the Brickster in the part of the journalist, because who’s more natural for an American checkin’ out houses of ill repute in the Japan of yore? I do it every week on Abarenbo Gaijin. But once again, the Brickster is digressin’.

Anyhoo, ‘Woman’ is disfigured with blue hair and a Joker-like grimace on the right side of her face. She’s the daughter of a midwife (or is that abortionist?). She tells Christopher than Komomo committed suicide after a lengthy session of torture brought on by bein’ accused of stealin’ her madam’s jade ring. The torture is lovin’ly shot, lingerin’ on every painful step of trussin’s, beatin’s and needle mutilation. It’s tough to watch-Komomo ends up lookin’ like a Cenobite from the Hellraiser series. In a nice touch, the author of the story Imprint was based on (entitled Bokke Kyoutee-didn’t see any kanji, but I assume this means ‘scary story’) plays the sadistically gleeful torturer. Christopher knows Woman is lyin’ about somethin’, and in a Rashomon turn, she gives him another version-this one with her stealin’ the ring and then killin’ Komomo. Christopher still ain’t buyin’ it, and demands the real truth-whereupon the third version is trotted out, and here’s where the story runs full tilt off the rails. You might think you’ve seen it all, but Miike pulls everythin’ out but the kitchen sink after this, includin’ what commentator Chris D appropriately calls on the alternate soundtrack “the Senor Wences moment”, leavin’ the viewer completely befuddled. There’s bloody abortions, twisted creatures, incest, ghosts, patricide, and madness still to come. Watch it yourself and if you can make sense outta’ the whole mess, be sure an’ let me know. I’ll be the one movin’ on to ‘Ghost Of Kasane’. My best guess is that Christopher was a nutcase from word one who killed a prostitute that reminded him (hence the title ‘Imprint’, although it has another connotation) of his little sister (who he had raped and killed), and that the whole episode takes place completely within his mind (and that Woman is the vengeful spirit of abused and aborted children who pushed him over the edge). Sounds like a plan, anyway.

It’ll appeal to Miike and gore/torture porn fans. Lots of extras, too, that are in many ways more interestin’ than the film (and run longer as well)-there’s a still gallery, trailers, a Miike bio, makin’ of documentary, a Miike interview (‘I Am The Director Of Love And Freedom’-yeah, and the Brickster is King Of England), and an FX feature. The script can be downloaded in PDF form (but still doesn’t make any sense) along with a screensaver that didn’t work and froze up the Brickster’s PC to boot. Good audio commentary by Chris D and Wyatt Doyle-both entertainin’ and informative, even though they wind up just as confused as me. Glad to see I ain’t the only one.


 Chushingura Gaiden Yotsuya Kaidan (1994-US Title Crest Of Betrayal), is for the Brickster's money, the best film involvin' the 47 Ronin to be made-and a damn fine take on combinin' it with 'Yotsuya Ghost Story' as well. Director Fukasaku Kinji never allows one story to become divorced from another, somethin' that happens all too often in 'combo' films. In this tellin' of the tales, Tamiya Iemon is one of Asano Naganori's former retainers who has been made ronin by Asano's idiotic assault on Kira Yoshinaka in the Shogun's castle in 1701. Iemon is a master of the biwa, and along with two other former Asano retainers, does street performances to eke out a livin' while they're waitin' for Asano councilor Oishi Kuranosuke to decide how to respond to Asano's enforced seppuku. Durin' one of the trio's performances, an attractive young lady named Oiwa shyly comes up and presses a goodly sum upon Iemon. She returns another day and tells Iemon that she is the owner of a quality goods shop, but when Iemon later tries to find her, no one's ever heard of it-and it turns out to be an illegal sex bathhouse, and she ain't even the owner. Iemon goes inside, and of course draws her as his girl-and slaps her around and yells at her just to let her know how much he cares. I don't get it, but chicks seem to eat that crap up-go figure. She moves in with him, hangin' on his every word and action. And, oh my, she is a doll. Anyone who thinks Japanese gals are all small breasted oughta get a load of Oiwa bathin' the twins-they're a couple of well rounded cuties. Anyway, this scene of domestic bliss is interrupted when one day a woman wearin' geisha makeup is set upon by thugs-she pushes one out of her way, and he falls on Iemon's biwa (a family heirloom from his father), bustin' it to pieces. Iemon gets pissed and metes out justice on the spot-which the girl mistakenly believes he did to protect her. To make it an even worse day for the Ronin, a mad dog from Shogun Tsunayoshi's kennel breaks in on the home of one of Iemon's fellow performers and kills his father (bein' slain in the process itself). The officials let them off the hook for killin' the Shogun's dog (it was mad, after all) but insist upon payment for the dog's funeral-way more gold than the Ronin can afford.

Later, the girl (Ume, who's a mute-what a GREAT quality in a woman, and she's also gorgeous, cultured, rich, and a great dancer, makin' her damn near perfect) turns up at Iemon's place and it seems the Ronin's prayers are answered when her grandfather bestows a gift of gold upon the Ronin for the funeral-but in a clever twist, he's Lord Kira's chamberlain-the sworn enemy of the former Asano retainers. The ronin return the gold and ask him to leave-but Iemon, who is sick of bein' a ronin, later goes to his mansion and asks for a position with Lord Kira in return for marryin' the lovesick daughter. Meanwhile, poor Oiwa is the recepient of some special medicine by Oume's porky fink of a handmaid...leadin' to one of the most intense shock moments seen in a Japanese film (and not one of the usual Yotsuya shock moments, either). The Brickster readily admits he jumped and yelled out loud in his easy chair!

Well, if you've watched either a Yotsuya or Chushingura before, you know what to expect from here on out. And it's great-from the point on the film gets extremely stylistic and weird, takin' on a dream like quality. Heck, they even have that Bob Guccione 'vaseline on the lens' trick to soften and blur the look of the film. In many parts the Brickster felt like he was havin' a wakin' nightmare. The story even throws in a bit of the 'Yukihime' legend for good measure when the now dead Oiwa shows up to assault the Kira houseguards with icy blasts of snow and ice (since they're allied with her enemy, the chamberlain). Generally, though, you don't get the full brunt of the supernatural goin's-on you do in a regular 'Yotsuya' film-which fits in better with its 'historical' settin'.

The 47 Ronin story is also handled well. While most Ronin films take their cues from puppet plays and novels rather than history by blamin' Kira for the whole mess, here Oishi (an excellent performance by genre staple Tsugawa Masahiko) calmy informs the Asano retainers that the situation is due entirely to Asano's bad temper. He attempts to stall them from makin' any rash moves until the decision on whether to abolish the clan is final-and finally regretfully plans an assault when their appeal is denied. It's the only 47 Ronin film of any ilk that seems to treat the situation in the manner that it went down historically. In one great speech, Oishi tells Iemon that his love of women, drinkin', and partyin' isn't an act-he enjoys it, and will miss all of it. Even Kira is treated with respect, acceptin' his fate calmy after bein' captured and offerin' up his head to the Ronin gamely. At the same time, it's a balanced presentation-the Ronin are never made out to be foolish, and the revenge is presented as bein' admirable. Kinda a shame that the best 47 Ronin film out there is a ghost story, but there ya go.

The endin' even brought a tear to the Brickster's eye. Without givin' too much away, Iemon makes amends for his evil acts both in this world and the next, with his victims showin' compassion unusual for Japanese ghosts. The stellar actin', gorgeous photography, sumptuous costumin' and set design, and excellent score (utilizin' Iemon's on screen biwa tunes to great effect) make this a must see as well.


Well, it's Halloween, and what better time to be reviewin' Yabu No Naka No Kuroneko (1968-US Title The Black Cat)? This black and white classic is just oozin' with atmosphere, and reminded me of another stylish b/w Japanese horror film of the 60's-Onibaba. And sure enuff, they were made by the same director, Shindo Kaneto. It's a pretty straightforward horror plot-a woman (Shige) and her mother-in-law (Yone) are raped and killed by a group of lootin' samurai in the Heian era while the man of the house Kintoki (Shige's husband, Yone's son) is away in the northeast at war, havin' been kidnapped and pressed into service. A black cat comes across the bodies later and sits on their chests.

Weeks later, samurai in the capital are bein' killed by a woman who lingers around a gate to the city. She asks for assitance, flirts, or otherwise lures them back to the house at the edge of a bamboo forest she shares with her mother-in-law-where they are murdered after bein' enticed into her bed. Yikes! Damn, I hate it when that happens-like the possibility of a husband walkin' in ain't bad enough. The bodies have their throats ripped out as if by a cat. Anyhow, this naturally enough concerns the leader of the samurai, Raiko-not so much because he hates losin' the men, but because it makes him look bad. He charges Kintoki (the last survivor of the army sent north, and just returned home) with findin' the evil creature. Why Kintoki? Well, because he slew the evil leader of the Earth Spiders (read this as 'emishi'-they ain't real spiders, folks) through sheer dumb luck, but was made out to be some kinda great hero. Kintoki meets the woman and returns to her home-only to find that, you guessed it, the two women are the spirits of his mother and wife, come back to life to take revenge upon all samurai (includin' him). How will this play out? Can Kintoki 'slay' his loved ones? How will they deal with the love they still feel for him? As in life, there are no easy answers here-even after the final act is played out.

This film creates a superb atmosphere of otherworldliness, makin' the supernatural not only believable but acceptable. The scenes of the graceful and ghostly 'cat women' floatin', flyin', and fightin' through the air are accented by slow motion and a silent soundtrack. The abandoned nightime streets of the city-the wind blowin' through the bamboo forest-the dilapidated old dark mansion-they all create an environment and mood not unlike that of the classic 1964 anthology Kwaidan. This is a perfect film to watch late at night on a cold winter night, or in autumn with the wind blowin' leaves around.

And it makes you think-no small feat where the Brickster is involved. The characters aren't cardboard cutouts. Some choose evil. Some self sacrifice. Some love. And it's never clear if the mother and wife are the spirits of the dead women, the vengeful demonic cats-or both.

Even more interestin', this is based on a real Japanese folktale featurin' two historical Japanese figures-Minamoto No Yorimitsu (944-1021, also known as Raiko) and Sakata No Kintoki (aka Kintaro, the Golden Boy, one of his 'Shitenno'-Four Heavenly Generals). While they're historical, there were a whole buncha wild folktales and legends that grew up around them-they make fer great readin' and will expand your enjoyment of the film.


Shura (1971-US Title Pandemonium or Demon) is another twisted take on the 47 Ronin Legend. A very dark and depressin' take on it-but a rivetin' and well done one. The film opens with a full color shot of the sun settin'-that's the last you'll see of daylight, and the last you'll see of color-the rest of the film is shot in glorious black and white. The shadows are used to excellent effect, as in several shots of a screen full of bobbin' paper lanterns-they're bein' held aloft by men, but only the lanterns are seen in the dark, givin' it a very surreal and disembodied feel. This is one brutal film-the violence isn't your typical samurai film violence with a swipe of a sword and everyone fallin' down right and left, with an occasional stylized blood geyser. Nope, this is real world violence-gettin' stabbed with a sword hurts like hell, and the human body can take a lot of punishment before goin' down for the count. There isn't a sympathetic character to be found either (apart from one character)-humanity is displayed at its most selfish and base level.

It seems the main character, Gengobe, is a former Asano retainer who was booted out for financial iregularities before Asano screwed up in Edo Castle. Still, he wants to redeem himself and join his former mates in takin' revenge for Asano. He needs 100 ryo in order to repay his debts and be accepted into the group.OK, so the Ronin now have an entrance fee-cheapskates, and after they cheated all those farmers in their old fief with debased currency. Gengobe's old servant Hachiemon manages to get the money by raisin' it a few mon at a time, hittin' up the farmers, townsfolk, and other people in Gengobe's former holdin's that he had helped out in past years. Gengobe is touched, but instead of buyin' back his honor ends up blowin' it all on a woman. Hey, I can see that-I'd do it myself. But it turns out he's become the victim of an elaborate scam-the geisha, Komon, whose debt he had just paid off to keep her from bein' claimed by another man, turns out to be married to Sangoro-the clown that painted Gengobe into the corner of havin' to reluctantly put up or shut up in the first place. Well, as might be imagined, Gengobe ain't too down with that, so he revisits the teahouse later on and slaughters everyone inside-except for the two people he wanted, who have gotten away. Sangoro uses the 100 ryo to buy his way back into his father's good graces and he and Komon settle down.

Flash forward ahead a few weeks. Gengobe has found out where Sangoro and Komon are holed up, and goes to visit with some poisoned sake. Nice housewarmin' gift, huh? He pretends to forgive 'em and they pretend to forgive him while tryin' to figure out a way to get help. It appears in the person of Komon's brother (who's also their landlord), who stops by and is signaled by Sangoro to go roust the local gendarmes from sake-induced slumber. They all show up, and prepare to arrest Gengobe for his killin' spree at the teahouse. But in in the ultimate act of self sacrifice, his servant Hachiemon takes the rap, comin' up with the other half of a paired set of knives (Gengobe had dropped one at the scene, but had given the other to Hachiemon earlier to sell) as 'proof' of his involvement. The cops cart Hachiemon off to be crucifed, and at this point Gengobe feels like a grade A shit for havin' blown the 100 ryo Hachiemon had scrimped together and then gettin' him killed. He tells Sangoro and Komon that he's changin' from that point on, and will deal with them no longer. Riiiiighht.

Things then get more complicated-Sangoro and Komon go lookin' for firewood under the floor, and come across a map of Lord Kira's mansion (left there by the former occupant, a carpenter). Dreams of a big money payoff from the Asano retainers fill their heads, but Komon's brother is also there, and he's in service to Kira. Followin' is a whole lot of drawn out, painful lookin' sad deaths-and Gengobe even gets back his original 100 ryo in a most unexpected manner.

The bizarre goin's on are made even stranger by 'dreamt reality' sequences, where Gengobe sees events play out in his minds eye-but of course, you're not privy to that while it's happenin' so you're never sure if what's goin' on is 'real' or not. The whole of the film adds up to a true cinematic nightmare, where the innocent suffer, the evil escape, and no one is left with a soul. Watch it-if you dare.


The 1959 effort Nippon Tanjo (Birth of Japan,  also called The Three Treasures in English) starrin’ Mifune Toshiro is Japan’s version of ‘The Ten Commandments’. It’s a three hour long marathon filmed in widescreen ‘Toho Vision’ that chronicles the adventures of one of Japan’s earliest heroes, the 1st-2nd century prince Yamatotakeru no mikoto. Along the way, it also relates the legends of Japan’s creation along with the origins of the three pieces of Imperial Regalia (the sword, jewel, and mirror-hence the ‘three treasures’). Yamato is sent west to Kyushu to deal with the Kumaso brothers, where he heroically dresses up like a woman (and a damn ugly one at that) to sneak up on the elder brother and deliver the fabled Ninjer death touch. He’s given the inspiration to do this by a mirror gifted to him by Temple Virgin Oto Tachibana from the Ise shrine, which he later pitches when she suddenly decides she hates him. Evil councilors advise Yamato’s pops, The Emperor Keiko, to then send him east to deal with the Emishi (so’s Yamato can get hisself killed and their favorites can become heir). Yamato decides Pops doesn’t love him and blubbers like a newborn until the Grand Priestess of Ise gives him a shiny new toy-Kusanagi (which ain’t Kusanagi yet but Ame-no-murakumo no tsurugi). This is the sword the god Susano-o pulled out of the butt of the Eight Headed Serpent, Orochi. Yamato then relates the history of the sword in a sequence where he also appears as Susano-o. Susano-o decides that in order to slay Orochi he needs to get it drunk first (always a good plan) and transform the scaly beast’s latest would-be sacrifice into a hair comb. Why a hair comb? Well, I guess because the big reptile wouldn’t have a use for one, seein’ as how it’s bald and all. In an excitin’ fight the beast guzzles down eight barrels of sake (the eight heads are named Obenjo, Tatsu, Ashigaru, Heron, Kitsuno, Tony, Josh, and Nags-so I hear), flops around drunkenly, and dies of amusement at Mifune’s ineffectual assault. Then Susano-o transforms the hair comb back into a gal and a two headed beast debuts. Later on, the sword helps Yamato evade a trap set by the Emishi, and at this point he decides ‘the hell with it’ and heads back to Japan with his woman Oto in tow (hey, seems like she don’t hate him after all-ain’t that just like a woman?). Since she had given up her position as a virgin servin’ the gods, the gods decide to get even by takin’ out Yamato’s flotilla with a huge storm. Oto sacrifices herself to even the score and save the flotilla, but Mifune’s got a back up chick in Owari that he already promised to marry so he don’t seem too worried about it. Now, at this point the traditional legend of Yamato has him dyin’ of a fever-but that don’t come across as bein’ too heroic, so here they have him take on the whole Yamato army (evil councilor division) that has turned out to prevent him from reclaimin’ his position as heir. Yamato dies anyway, shot down by arrows like a dog, but transforms into a white bird that triggers a volcanic eruption, a huge earthquake, and a tsunami. Kinda tough to do since Yamato province is landlocked, but hey, he IS a hero. Followin’ are several gratifyin’ shots as the evil councilor’s armies are wiped out-the rushin’ lava flows snuffin’ out the scamperin’ soldiers are particularly fun to watch. Then the bird flies off into the Pure Land, or the Land of the Gods-whatever.

A lot of work and money went into the film (by Japanese standards), but it hasn’t aged particularly well. For starters, Mifune turns in one of his worst performances-while he was known to chew the scenery at times, he really goes overboard here. Watchin’ him continually strikin’ cornball heroic poses juxtaposed with scenes of hysterical theatrical cryin’ was more than just a little painful. The film grinds to a stop on a regular basis with song ‘n dance numbers. And that fight with Orochi-hoo boy! You’d think the studio that did the Godzilla films would be a little more competent when it came to puttin’ together a more convincin’ eight headed serpent. I still don’t have a clue as to how it died. Mifune runs around in front of the creature, strikes poses with his sword, and lures it into gettin’ tangled up in a tree where it expires. Then he swats at the beast’s rubbery tail like a housewife chasin’ a mouse with a broom. Finally, he leaps on the tail and frantically hacks at it. Well, at least the score by Ikufube Akira is good (although like a lot of his work, it sounds like it should be in a Godzilla movie). And the endin’ cataclysm is satisfyin’ as hell to watch, even though it’s loaded with stock footage and bad matte work. The fact that I was watchin’ a bad print with color that faded in and out likely didn’t help things. Nippon Tanjo has enough to keep a history buff interested for three hours, but it won’t make you bemoan the lack of further Ancient Japan based epics.


     Last night, the Brickster screened a new instant five-star classic-THE MACHINE GIRL. If you’re a fan of gore-filled over the top cheesy action flicks loaded with gratuitous violence, then this gem should be on your ‘must see’ list. Yashiro Minase plays Ami, a schoolgirl who is tryin’ to live a normal life with her brother Yu after their parents commit suicide (the parents were accused of murder, although this angle is really never explained in the story). Unfortunately, Yu and his friend Takeshi have fallen prey to the local bullies. These aren’t regular bullies-the leader is Kimura Sho, whose family is descended from Hattori Hanzo and is completely badass. You know this, because not only are they yakuza, they’re YAKUZA NINJA-and it don’t get much more badass than that. Sho tells Yu that he really isn’t interested in his money-he just wants to see him suffer. Yu finally fights back when Sho threatens to make Ami a prostitute in his father’s whorehouse. Yu and Takeshi are killed, and Ami goes lookin’ for the culprit. Despite tryin’ to resolve things peacefully, she finds herself havin’ to pull out all the stops and ‘becoming a demon’, Lone Wolf style. Her career as an avenger is seemin’ly amputated in the bud when she is captured and tortured. Ami loses her left arm but manages to escape and drag herself to the garage of Takeshi’s parents, who take pity on her, buildin’ her an arm mounted gatlin’ gun. The Kimura family enlist their flunkies (and after they’re killed, parents of said flunkies) in an effort to take down Ami and Takeshi’s mom, Miki (who has joined Ami’s quest for revenge). However, special forces such as the Junior High Shuriken Team and the Super Mourner Group don’t cut the muster and Ami faces the Kimura family in a final showdown (of course). Like the tagline read in TCM, ‘Who will survive and what will be left of them?’ is the film’s burnin’ question at this point.

     What really makes the film work is its bizarre sense of humor with a cast that infuses the ridiculous story with enthusiasm and energy. Nothin’ is done halfway-when a character runs afoul of the Drill Bra, there isn’t a trickle of blood-there’s a geyser that would put Old Faithful to shame. In fact, you could likely fill an Olympic sized pool with all the blood used in the filmin’ of this movie. All of the effects (whether mechanical or CGI) are haphazardly executed, unconvincin’, amateurish-and completely satisfyin’. So far in filmdom we’ve had arm mounted guns, arm mounted chainsaws, leg mounted guns-and in Machine Girl, the circle becomes complete with the leg mounted chainsaw. Ami’s arm mounted gatlin’ gun has no movin’ parts and looks like a  poorly sculpted PVC tube (the gun barrels aren’t even straight!) stuck onto the end of her arm, with flashes of light used to make it look like it’s firin’. The characters are bizarre parodies of human beings-Grand Master Shimura is a hilarious lookin’ criminal mastermind, with sideways hair that would make Bozo The Clown or Flattop envious. Watchin’ him infusin’ the grievin’ parents with the spirit of Hattori Hanzo in a mystical Ninjer rite is like watchin’ one of those tent revivals in the USA. And there are no regrets or angst filled introspection on display to slow down the story here-the bad guys and the good guys alike absolutely revel in their violence. And it’s all family friendly, since there ain’t any nudity on display.

     The plot has holes big enough for that van full of Buddhist monks that seem to follow me around to drive through. For example, after Ami is chained to the ceilin’ and her guard pokes his head between her legs, she breaks his neck and next thing you see are guards runnin’ around outside lookin’ fer her. But with one hand gone, the other stretched tight and chained to the ceilin’, and no way for her to bend down, how did she get the guard’s key and unlock her shackles? How can Ami walk miles through the middle of Tokyo in broad daylight, drenched in blood, staggerin’ and missin’ an arm, and not have one single person around? How can a hundred pound schoolgirl carry around a two hundred pound gun on her arm, deal with the recoil, and also the burns a rapid fire weapon would leave on skin? When a character is attacked by the Drill Bra and loses 10 gallons of blood and several pounds of flesh, how do they just waltz comfortably away afterwards with boobs intact? Well, those are just several of life’s little mysteries that I’m sure the filmmakers would have no problem answerin’, but that you’ll be happier not askin’. And if you’re watchin’ this film fer the story-you must have a problem.

Here’s a partial laundry list of the treats in store for the discernin’ filmgoer:
-hand lopped off by sickle
-lead pipe kicked through the mouth and completely out the back of a head
-noggin disintegrated by arm mounted gatlin’ gun
-arm fried in tempura batter
-the old ‘severed head hidden in the dinner pot’ trick
-arterial spray from beheaded torso used as hair conditioner
-chef forced to eat his lopped off fingers with sushi
-arm impaled by samurai sword, fingers cut off, and mistakenly amputated when villain takes a pratfall after his wife gets pissed and trips him
-loads of unconvincin’ fistfightin’
-knife to back of head and out the mouth, followed by intestines unravelin’ from mouth
-knife to top of head, followed by necrophilia
-goofy mechanic cut into five lateral sections by shuriken that slide apart
-ninja’s flesh flayed by gunfire, leavin’ only a bloody snappin’ skull with eyes
-facial trauma via hammer, followed by enough nails to the head to make the lucky recipient look like Pinhead from Hellraiser
-impalement via explodin’ gatlin’ gun
-flyin’ guillotine
-drill bra
-electrocution via urine
-bisection by chainsaw
-random throat slashin’s
-loads of gunfire kills
-and a Friday The 13th slo-mo final double decapitation Flashdance style

     So what are you waitin’ for? This is Grade A brain-dead fun. While the artsy type or wusses might prefer a screenin’ of ‘My Dinner with Andre’, the rest of us will find this film a rewardin’ investment of 96 minutes. Go rent/buy it today, so Tokyo Shock can get busy on puttin’ together Machine Girl 2-which, by the way, Tokyo Shock, the Brickster’d be a natural co-star for...


    The last several years there’ve been a slew of samurai movies in Japan that eschew traditional story based action and concentrate almost exclusively on style. Gojoe is one of these. The story, what there is of it, is a reimaginin’ of the famous fight on Gojo Bridge in Kyoto between Musashibo Benkei and Minamoto Yoshitsune in the twelfth century. I’ve read a few reviews about this movie that complain about it bein’ based on Japanese legends that are not familiar to Westerners-to which I say, quitcher whinin-it’s a film made for Japanese audiences, fer crissakes. Director Ishii Sogo pretty much throws out everythin’ but the names, anyway. The original legend had Benkei attackin’ members of the Taira clan who set foot on Gojo Bridge in an attempt to collect 1,000 of their swords. Yoshitsune wanders by and is challenged by Benkei, settin’ off a duel that ends with Benkei’s defeat and his swearin’ fealty to Shanao (Yoshitsune’s name as a child). In the film, Benkei instead considers it his callin’ as a monk to destroy the ‘evil demon’ that is killin’ off members of the Taira by the cartload, gatherin’ 1,000 of their souls in the process. If it takes ya more than one guess to get the identity of the demon, you’d better go back to watchin’ anime. Benkei encounters Shanao and his two ‘demonic’ cohorts several times but never gets around to fightin’ em until the end of the film. That’s pretty much the entire story, with a whole bunch of fightin’ and killin’ in between. There are a few short minor side stories (like Benkei aidin’ a pregnant woman and later her baby in an attempt to atone for havin’ killed his own son years ago, a ‘ki’ battle between rival Minamoto and Taira onmyoji, and Benkei’s relationship with his mentor) but you coulda cut ‘em all out and not affected the plot one bit.

     Now, with such a weak story, Gojoe better do one hell of a job executin’ it-and this it does. The art direction, imagery, and photography of the film are excellent. It makes full use of gorgeous natural settin’s and also its bizarre stagebound sets (like Gojoe Bridge itself-unlike the historical bridge which was a bustlin’ center of activity, this is an isolated, dilapidated bridge leadin’ to nowhere). The mood it creates is comparable to Japanese horror films in the early goin’, bringin’ up comparisons to a darker version of the Onmyoji films. After the ‘demons’ are exposed, the supernatural elements of the movie are largely kicked to the curb and the fightin’ takes center stage. It is presented in a dynamic fashion that combines the surreal with the explicit. For example, the initial attack on the Taira waitin’ for the ‘demon’ at Gojoe is shown as a series of blood geysers eruptin’ from behind foliage. When the ‘demon’ is revealed to be three swordsmen wearin’ stylized menpo and Noh masks, the action switches to a close up view of the action. There are at least three extended swordfight scenes, and all are well put together. Set design and costumin’ are detailed and sumptuous.

     The actin’ is nothin’ to write home about, but then again, the actors aren’t given a lot to work with. Asano Tadanobu plays Yoshitsune and conveys well the combination of serenity and explosive energy his character calls for. Ryu Daisuke’s Benkei puts across the divided and confused nature that the monk struggles with throughout the film. Nagase Masatoshi plays Tetsukichi, a sword smith who has stooped to lootin’ weapons from the demon’s victims.  He has very little to do and functions mainly as a soundin’ board for Benkei. One major complaint the Brickster has is the almost complete lack of women in the film-only one has more than a second of screen time (the pregnant woman whose delivery is aided by Benkei), and she has only a few mumbled words of dialogue. I mean, there ain’t the movie been made that can’t at least use some eye candy sashayin’ around.

     Gojoe also has a great endin’ where Yoshitsune and Benkei battle it out to the death on a flamin’ Gojoe bridge. In a nice departure from the norm, Benkei’s all powerful demon slayer sword is destroyed by Yoshitsune mere seconds into the fight-that ain’t to say it doesn’t end up bein’ useful. And since this IS a battle to the death, how does the film explain that Yoshitsune and Benkei historically went on to destroy the Taira before bein’ killed by Minamoto Yoritomo? Well, in a great twist endin’, the film does so simply and elegantly.

     Gojoe delivers the goods if you’re lookin’ for a rock video style chanbara movie that’s a triumph of style over substance-and the style is top of the line. If you’re lookin’ for a film that combines witty writin’, an involvin’ story, and stellar performances instead, then wait for ‘Lone Wolf And Brick’ ‘cause you ain’t gonna find it in Gojoe.


Kill The Shogun wins the Brickster’s grand prize for fraudulent marketin’. From the film title to the graphic on the front of the DVD box featurin’ a stylized samurai helmet (pretty much ripped off from the SHOGUN: TOTAL WAR computer game logo) and a bevy of samurai and ninja attackin’ a lone warrior, you’re led to believe that this is a typical chanbara film. This is reinforced by the description on Amazon, which says that it’s a battle of a lone Korean soldier against the forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea in the 1590’s (and there is indeed a film called ‘Kill The Shogun’ that has this plot-it just ain’t this one). The couple of reviews on the site point out that the description is totally wrong, and after you’re enticed by the cover and description, you come to find out on the back of the box that the film actually is about “April 1904-the brutal takeover of Korea by the Japanese…the Koreans fight an incredible martial arts battle for their honor…one soldier, Han, who keeps the spirit and the strength of his country alive…”. Wotta gyp. No Shogun (and Hideyoshi wasn’t Shogun anyway, even if it had been about his invasion). No Ninja. No Samurai, although they try to shoehorn them in anyway. Just your typical low budget Chinese kung-fu antics film. Trinity Home Entertainment ain’t the first low budget outfit to use deceptive marketin’, but they oughta be ashamed of themselves anyway.


But since the Brickster had plunked down the princely sum of $7.99 for the honor of watchin’ this piece o’ crap, he decided to pop it into the DVD player and give it a spin. The first thing you’ll notice is that this film sure ain’t helpin’ to mend fences between the Japanese and Koreans-it’s typical anti-Japanese Korean/Chinese fare. The leads give long winded speeches about how the Korean fightin’ spirit is far superior to the Japanese (which doesn’t help to explain why the Koreans surrendered in the first place or why they never expelled the Japanese) and the Japanese are portrayed throughout as buck toothed savage barbarians and cowards (much like a 1940’s era American film would do). Well, I guess a martial arts revenge film needs to set up a ‘good guy vs bad guy’ scenario (although I kinda like Japanese revenge films where it’s more ‘grey guy vs grey guy’), so the Brickster was willin’ to overlook this aspect.


The second thing you’ll notice is that it seems military actions in 1904 weren’t settled by killin’ off the enemy, but rather by takin’ their pants off. Really. Both on the Japanese and Korean sides, there are multiple scenes where they force each other to remove their trousers. All I can say is, the writer/director musta been gay. And military punishment was doled out in the Japanese army by forcin’ soldiers to put one boot in their mouth, and then beatin’ them to a pulp with the other one (preceded by the proclamation, “You KNOW what happens to those who disgrace the honor of the Japanese Army!”). This is one regulation the Brickster’s father-in-law (a Japanese army WWII vet) musta forgot to fill him in on.


As far as the storyline goes, it’s pretty routine-two Korean soldiers refuse to take their pants off and embark on a mission of revenge against the Japanese occupiers. When one of them steals the Medal of Honor given to the commander of the Japanese occupyin’ force by the Emperor, the entire power of the Japanese army comes down upon them. Usin’ subterfudge, the Japanese force Han to surrender the Medal to earn the life of his buddy. This results in a huge final tournament at the end where Korean soldier Han takes on the best fighters in the Japanese Army to win his freedom. There’s plenty of fightin’ in the film, and it’s all very well done-the one redeemin’ feature it has. I gotta admit, watchin’ stars David Kang and Jung Choy fight probably was worth the $7.99. However, it comes up short in one critical area-there is no equally skilled nemesis on the Japanese side to counter Han and provide an interestin’ climatic battle-they’re all ‘watch Han decimate the Japanese in every single fight’.


The storyline also attempts to incorporate the ‘bullshido’ into the proceedin’s, where the Japanese characters are always talkin’ about the honorable unbreakable word of the samurai (while they try to dream up creative ways to get around it without actually breakin’ the letter of what they’ve said). Japanese fighters who lose in the tournament are made to commit seppuku (sometimes aided by gunfire, just to keep things historically accurate). And lo and behold, the Imperial Army had been hoardin’ three samurai as sekrit weapons (even though the samurai class had been outlawed thirty years or so ago). You’ll laugh like never before when the Japanese C.O. yells out at the tourny’s final round, “Now you must face…THE SAMURAI!!!” And wouldn’t ya know it, as luck would have it these are THE EXACT SAME THREE SAMURAI that killed Han’s father for teachin’ Tae Kwon Do years earlier. Well, at least he died with his pants on.


There are lots of laughable gaffes and screwed up details along the way. If you’re used to the top quality costume design even the cheapest Japanese films have, you’ll laugh your ass off when the three ‘master samurai’ appear at film’s end. They’re attired in a mishmash of Chinese jammies, loose robes, and rags. The ‘master samurai’ fight with cheap knockoff Chinese ‘samurai’ swords and fight in the frentic ‘Chinese opera’ style of swordsmanship. Korean hookers (kisaeng) are called geisha throughout. Japanese troops march outlandishly out of step. And I wasn’t aware that gym shoes were part of the standard issue Korean military uniform of 1904.

As far as ‘special features’-well, the box lists ‘fullscreen presentation-English 2.0-Scene selection (a total of FOUR SCENES you can select)-Digitally Mastered-Interactive Menus (actually just one menu with two choices)’.  WOW! That list of extras really got my heart racin’. And they even lie about the film’s length-the box lists it as 266 minutes, but it’s actually 99 minutes. Feel free to skip this pile o’ dung, unless you find yerself needin’ a shiny new drink coaster.


    Animeigo’s Samurai Cinema’s got a winner goin’ with their pickup of the Shinobi No Mono franchise. The second movie in the series, Shinobi No Mono: Vengeance (1963) is possibly the best of the lot. It combines a fascinatin’ historically based narrative with realistic feats that would be carried out by ninja with little of the fantasy embellishments that were to come later. Sure, there are a few gaffes here and there (like Hideyoshi havin’Portuguese field guns in 1582 and Mori Ranmaru bein’ straight) but nothin’ that really detracts from the overall story. Even though this was a grade B film, the photography is sharp, the art direction elaborate, and the performances are solid to a T.

     The film centers around the remnants of the Iga ninja attemptin’ to wreak vengeance on Oda Nobunaga for his attack on Iga that virtually destroyed their clan. The prime mover and shaker here is Ishikawa Goemon (played by chanbara film icon Ichikawa Raizo). As you might recall from the first Shinobi No Mono, Goemon retired from the ninja lifestyle after he learned how Iga leader Sandayu had been playin’ both ends against the middle. While Goemon was content to live out his life as a farmer without feelin’ the need to kill Nobunaga, this all changes when Oda soldiers break into his home searchin’ for ninja. In a scene that is still shockin’ even today, one of the soldiers grabs Goemon’s infant son Gohei and slams the poor kid into a blazin’ fire. Goemon then dedicates his life to killin’ Oda Nobunaga. What follows is an involvin’ drama that follows the known history of the era closely, with Goemon thrown into the mix.

     The central plot point is the relationship between Oda and his vassal, Akechi Mitsuhide. Between the machinations of Oda’s other trusted aide Hashiba Hideyoshi and the misinformation bein’ spread by Goemon and a kunoichi, Akechi’s loyalty to Oda falls into question and he increasin’ly falls out of favor with his brutish lord. Eventually, the abuse becomes so bad that Akechi revolts and carries out the 1582 attack on Honno-ji. Durin’ the attack, Goemon gets his chance to kill the demon lord (Oda is played nicely by genre vet Wakayama Tomisaburo, although with an awful hairstyle that’ll make you think he was gunnin’ for the lead in Afro Samurai), which he does with panache, loppin’ off his right arm and left leg. In perhaps the film’s most visually impressive scene, the floor of the burnin’ temple collapses under Oda, seemin’ly as if the bowels of hell have opened up to claim him.

     Goemon is happy and goes back to the Saiga faction of the Ikko-ikki to rejoin his wife Maki. However, the faction runs afoul of Nobunaga’s self appointed successor Hideyoshi by decidin’ to back Akechi instead of him (hey, look, video game fans-it’s Akechi Samanosuke from Onimusha who makes the agreement!). After Hideyoshi destroys Akechi’s army and Mitsuhide is killed by a peasant, the Hashiba army turns its attention to Saiga, layin’ siege to their fortified enclave. Bein’ used to dealin’ with the ‘kill ‘em all down to the last man and let the kami sort ‘em out’ policy of Oda, the Saiga pass on the generous surrender terms offered by Hideyoshi, thinkin’ that it’s just a scam. Goemon leaves the compound to enlist the help of the nearby Negorodera warrior monks, but when he comes across Hideyoshi on his way there he can’t resist makin’ a half-hearted assassination attempt. What this does is incite Hideyoshi, causin’ him to drop the siege and attack the Saiga enclave while Goemon is gone-killin’ every man, woman, and child (includin Goemon’s wife). So of course, Goemon now dedicates his life to killin’ Hideyoshi. When Tokugawa Ieyasu’s ninja Hattori Hanzo (played by chanbara staple Date Saburo) gives Goemon the map to Hideyoshi’s pleasure palace in Kyoto, it’s off to see the wizard. However, Goemon gives himself away by steppin’ on Hideyoshi’s nightingale floor (seems he hadn’t read Lian Hearn’s books). He’s captured and sentenced to death by boilin’ in a pot ala James Clavell’s Shogun. Does Goemon meet with a rather well-done end? Well, we ain’t tellin’, but since the title of the next Shinobi No Mono is ‘Ninja Goemon Will Never Die’ it’s pretty easy to guess.

     This film is almost more of a samurai drama than a ninja film. Fans of both will love it. The feats of the ninja are dealt with in a manner that is much like they were used historically-settin’ fires, spreadin’ misinformation, gatherin’ intelligence-sure, there are a couple of flashy assassination attempts, but for the most part it’s the most accurate depiction of ninja ever put to celluloid. Another nice subtle touch is the juxtaposition of the religious lifestyle of the Ikko-ikki with the violent world that swirls around them-a world which the ikki become an active part of. This is best shown by the message left for Goemon and scrawled in blood next to a scroll of the Amida Buddha in the western paradise after the final attack-“Live To Kill Hideyoshi”.

     As always, Animeigo has included a lot of nice extras with the film. There are historical notes, an image gallery, and a set of trailers for this and other films. An interestin’ addition to this disc is an interactive map of Japan, which shows you the locales and cities where the action in the movie takes place-click on a name, and it’ll give you more information on what happened there. A very nice touch!

     One extra, though, just flat out sucks. This is the first film in the Samurai Cinema series that has included film commentary, and Animeigo couldn’t have picked someone worse to do it. The commentary is by one Ric Meyers-you can read the Brickster’s full thoughts on why it blows so badly in the May 26, 2008 entry for the McBurly Monogatari. The short version is that Meyers buys into Ninjer lore big time, doesn’t talk about the film, and really enjoys talkin’ about Ric Meyers. It’s awful, and only the pile of dung that is the commentary for Snake Woman’s Curse keeps it from bein’ the worst DVD film commentary the Brickster’s ever heard. Don’t let it keep ya from pickin’ up the DVD though-it’s the only sour note in an otherwise excellent package.


Recently one of the Brickster’s pals sent him a copy of Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams (1970) starrin’ Oshida Reiko. Now THAT’s what I call a real friend! This movie reinforced my impressions of Reiko-chan: if she ain’t the most beautiful woman in 60’s-70’s Japanese cinema (and for that matter, still lookin’ mighty fine), then the Brickster must be a Rhodes Scholar. Delinquent Girl Boss is Japanese sleaze and cheeseball comedy at its best, but even though touted as part of the Pinky genre really doesn’t contain much in the way of graphic violence and there’s little nudity as well. What you do get is a cornucopia of guilty pleasures-Japanese bar hostesses in the shortest mini skirts imaginable, decrepit dodderin’ old farts lustin’ after same, yakuza thugs, catfights, psychedelic drug use, lots of panty shots, an Austin Powers-like main man with teeth like a beaver, and a climatic fight in a pachinko parlor where Junko Miyazono shows she hasn’t forgotten her swordplay skills from the Okatsu trilogy. You know this film is gonna deliver the goods from the very first sequence when a big brawl erupts in the bathhouse of a Akagi Girls Reform School, with tattooed naked bad girls ladlin’ out the punch. You’re then treated to freeze frames detailin’ the criminal careers of the gals who are to be the dramatis personae for this round of ‘Delinquent Girl Boss’. Things get even better when Rika (Oshida Reiko) is released and is seen peddlin’ down a busy street on her bike, wearin’ the shortest mini skirt around-those long toned legs just about caused the Brickster to pass out when the blood rushed from his head to…well, ya know. Anyway, Rika’s new career at the cleaners is interrupted when the horny owner sneaks into her bed one night and finds himself denied. She finds herself out on the street, derelict but in the best cinematic tradition somehow able to afford a multitude of trendy clothes and outfits. It isn’t long before Rika catches the eyes of the neighborhood perverts along with the women’s branch of the local yakuza. In a nod to the classic Edo period yakuza films, Rika delivers a traditional yakuza style introduction and greetin’ before she beats the crap out of all of them.
Then we move into the main storyline-Rika ends up becomin’ a bar hostess at a place run by Umeko (Junko Miyazono, who had appeared with Reiko in the Okatsu series of Pinky/chambara films). In fact, all the girls (with the exception of one cross dresser) there includin’ Umeko are graduates of Akagi Reform School-Umeko hopes that the money they earn will help them to find a better way of life. Unfortunately, the local yakuza boss Ohba wants the property the bar is located on and is determined to get it by any means necessary. This is startin’ to sound a lot like an old Zatoichi film, ain’t it? Hell, all you’d need to do is change the costumin’ and sets. When one of Umeko’s hostesses (Bunny, presumably not the same chick Sgt. Carter hooked up with in Gomer Pyle) steals some drugs from Ohba’s ladies auxiliary, the gang boss uses it as the opportunity to pressure Umeko into handin’ over the deed to the place in lieu of a huge cash payment. Along the way, Rika delivers a fine ass-kickin’ to the leader of Ohba’s girls (Oharu, herself a graduate of the Akagi Reform School), changes her shirt in a convertible rollin’ down the street (doubtlessly causin’ a few wrecks along the way), gives it up to beaver-toothed grease monkey Tony  (after strikin’ a fashion model pose in a skimpy bikini against a harbor break ‘dragon’s tooth’), offers herself to Ohba in exchange for eliminatin’ Umeko’s debt, and then is worked over by his muscle when he doesn’t honor his end of the deal-all while displayin’ her feisty-but-lovable attitude. This all leads up to the endin’ when Umeko decides she’s taken enuff BS, picks up her fathers sword, and heads over to Ohba’s pachinko parlor with her old flame Shinjiro (an employee of Doha’s who had killed her father) to carve out her spot in the cartel, so to speak. Rika and the rest of the bar hostesses show up to help out at just the right moment and Ohba gets 'stuck' with the bill. The film ends on just the right note, showin’ Umeko and her girls bein’ hauled away in the Paddy Wagon, cheerfully reminiscin’ about their prior turns in jail and speculatin’ where they might end up this time.
While there’s nothin’ new to be seen here, fans of exploitation and sleaze films will find this flick to be an entertainin’ way to spend an hour and a half. Just watchin’ Reiko is reward enough. For further Delinquent Girl Boss action on US DVD, there’s another entry in the series that’s only been released as a part of an expensive Pinky boxed set (Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless To Confess). So American distributors take note-you need to get on the stick and release the rest of the Delinquent Girl Boss series NOW!


Heaven’s Soldiers-here’s a Korean effort that steals a page from the Japanese Sengoku Jieitai series (not to mention our show)-unsuspectin’ mooks from the present get shuttled back through time and are thrust into the middle of a historically touchy situation. In this case, it happens to be members of both the North and South Korean armies that were fightin’ over the possession of a nuke co-developed in secret by both countries. When a mysterious comet passes overhead, they’re sent back to 1572 northern Korea and dropped inta the middle of a battle between Jurchen tribesmen from China and the residents of a Korean village. Despite scatterin’ the tribesmen, the group falls afoul of the local law-and the cause of it all is the famous Korean admiral Yi Sun Shin. This is the same man widely regarded as a national hero for havin’ saved Korea from the Japanese invasions of 1592-8. However, this isn’t the heroic Yi they’ve read about in their history books-here, he’s a liar, a thief, and a drug smuggler who has failed the military entrance exam. The soldiers from the future have to deal with rescuin’ their imprisoned comrades, locatin’ the nuke (which as you would expect is activated and on a timer), savin’ the townspeople from the Jurchens, fightin’ amongst each other, and most importantly, keepin’ Yi alive and tryin’ to put him on the path to fulfill his destiny.
All in all, the film ain’t bad. There are only six soldiers (three from each part of Korea) along with the female scientist that helped develop the bomb, and in a budget-conscious measure, no military vehicles or heavy equipment (other than a small raft). This centers the film more on the characters, which it does nicely, and much of the first hour is devoted to comedy (with the funniest sequence involvin’ a Korean Chief Inspector examinin’ a grenade with the prisoners from the future tied up nearby and unable to bolt). The last half hour delivers the dramatic goods, with a huge, well done battle to end all battles between the Jurchens and the Yi/Soldier/Townspeople alliance. You won’t be disappointed with this fight. Ambushes, chargin’ cavalry, explosions, insanely devastatin’ claymores (of the land mine variety), hackin’ swords, witherin’ gunfire, thrustin’ spears, and the old arrow through the head all feature prominently. Some of the future group live, some die, some return to the future, and some stay in the past.
The one area where the film falls somewhat short is that it shows things 20 years before the Japanese invasion-it would have been substantially better had it shown Yi as a flake then. As it is, you’re left with one short sequence at the end in 1598 at Myeongnyang with Yi’s 13 ships facin’ a Japanese fleet of 333 (the Japanese fleet flyin' the Mori flag and bein’ commanded by a guy-presumably Todo Takatora-wearin’ armor with Oda Nobunaga’s crest-hoo, boy). Yi gives an inspirational speech to his men, and there’s a nice touch by showin’ the two survivin’ soldiers from the future decked out in traditional Korean armor and actin’ as his generals. But no battle here…just a fade out after the speech.
Not bad at all-there’s a little somethin’ here for everyone, with decent performances and a spectacular battle. However, the limited budget kept it from realizin’ its potential.


The samurai/western crossover Sukiyaki Western/D'Jango is a winner! The bizarre combination of Yojimbo/Kill Bill/Fistful Of Dollars/Heike Monogatari (along with, 'o course, the Italian spaghetti western classic D'jango) really works. It would've been perfect for the Western/Samurai film group we ran on the Samurai Archives last year. Be forewarned, though, if you have no sense of the absurd, you won't enjoy this film. For example, Taira Kiyomori is readin' "Heike Monogatari" to his followers but is alterin' it so they believe it says "The Genji Are Goin' Down". He then discards it and says from now on he'll be readin' Henry VI, because the Red win in this one. Then he insists from now on, all his followers call him Henry, which they do after he beats the crap out of Taira Shigemori after he giggles at him. On the Genji side, Shizuka is a 'fallen dove'. Benkei, after bein' shot in both testicles by Yoshitsune and havin' them removed, puts on makeup and acts like a woman to get back in his lord's graces only to get gunned down for his trouble. There's other "Monogatari" figures like Yoichi and Taira Munemori that are likewise warped. In a nod to Kill Bill, there a neat short animated sequence featurin' the legend of "Bloody Benten" (Benten or Benzaiten is the Japanese goddess of femininity), described as the 'eight armed goddess of the gunfight'. Plenty of gunfights, some swordplay (mostly by the supernaturally gifted Yoshitsune), barroom brawls, gold, and the most mangled English (the movie is shot with Japanese actors speakin' English) you'll ever hear. While 'Yoshitsune' is occasionally intelligible, I found it easier just to read the Japanese subtitles. Just listenin' to one of the extras exclaim "Gold Nuggets" is enough to induce spasms of laughter.
So-just who or what is D'Jango? Well, you'll have ta wait until the end of the movie to find out. I will say it ain't the main character, who is the proverbial 'man with no name'. And there's an absolutley kickass D'jango reference when the corrupt town lawman finally gets his at the end.


Jigoku-Well, even the Brickster is gonna have a tough time passin' this off as a samurai film. About the only connection is that this is the same hell that a fifteenth century samurai woulda been consigned to-the Buddhist concept of hell ain't changed much through the centuries.

Anyway, this 1960 effort was the crownin' glory of Japanese horror film maestro Nakagawa Nobuo, and was one of the last (if not THE last) films released by Shintoho studios. It follows the descent of theology student Shimizu Shiro (Amachi Shigeru) into hell, and the disturbin' thing is, it's not because of things he's done-but because of things he hasn't. Shiro is helped along by his fellow student Tamura (Numata Yoichi), who either commits all of the dastardly acts or is a primary instigator. Who or what Tamura actually is, is one of the more intrestin' questions posed by the film. Tamura appears at will in the least likely spots and has seemin'ly complete knowledge of the secrets of everyone he meets. He claims to be a demon and the lord of death, but yet descends into hell with Shiro and is exposed to the full wrath of the demons within. Is Tamura simply an embodiment of Shiro's dark side? No matter-Tamura kicks off the whole mess by runnin' down drunken yakuza thug "Tiger" Shiga (Izumida Hiroshi) on a dark side street and drivin' off. Of course, he tells Shiro it's his fault for havin' him take that road in the first place, and besides, it's just the life of a worthless yakuza. Well, everyone means somethin' to someone, and in this case it's Tiger's mom (Tsuji Kiyoko) and lover Yoko (Ono Akiko). Mrs. Shiga copied down Tamura's plates and along with Yoko plans to track him down and kill him. Meanwhile, Shiro's guilty conscience leads him to turn himself in to the authorities. Bringin' along his new fiance Yukiko (Mitsuya Utako) and insistin' on takin' a cab to the police box, he's involved in yet another accident where the cab driver suddenly swerves and hits a pole, killin' Yukiko. It's intrestin' that you never see exactly what it is that the cab driver swerves to avoid-and that the cab driver is replaced by Tamura for a few seconds before the crash. This sends Yukiko's mom around the bend, and Shiro gets more bad news when he is informed that his mother is dyin'. Rushin' out to the shabby retirement home owned by his father, he is dropped into a situation where every character he encounters is a selfish loser with shady pasts-except for one. Sachiko is the daughter of Shimazu's father's best friend, and it was her that sent the telegram. She's a sweetheart and the spittin' image of his fiance Yukiko (and played by the same actress). Things proceed further along the downward spiral (and it only takes about fifteen minutes!) when Yoko (lookin' for revenge) falls off a bridge while confrontin' Shiro, Tamura is shot and falls off the same bridge in a struggle with Shiro shortly thereafter, Shiro's dad (Hayashi Hiroshi) kills his cheatin' mistress Kinuko and tells Shiro to keep his mouth shut, Tamura reappears and kills Sachiko, Yukiko's mom and dad throw themselves in front of a train, and Mrs. Shiga kills off the rest of the cast with poisoned sake (includin' this crazy exchange with a member of the home's staff when she offers the bottle-"Hey, this sake wouldn't be poisoned, now, would it?" "Why, certainly not!").

 By now, absolutely everyone in the movie is dead. Usually it's "The End", and time to go home (or sneak into another part of the multiplex). But not here! No siree-where ya goin', roundboy, the fun's just startin'! For the last 40 minutes of the film, Shiro (along with everyone else) descends into Jigoku (Buddhist hell)-and it's every bit the nightmarish, disjointed, and hallucinatory spot you'd expect it to be. Nakagawa pulls no punches. Bizarre lookin' blue and red skinned demons with evil jagged spears and hammers rip the flesh from sinners, cut off their hands, saw them into pieces, poke out eyes, smash teeth, and refuse to validate parkin'. There's a river of pus and filth ("Drink your fill!" roars Emma-o, the King Of Hell), a river of blood for fornicators (uh oh-not good news for the Brickster), a field of needles, the burnin' wheel of kharma, the vortex of sin, and more. Physical horror is interspaced with mental anguish-Shiro is confronted with the sin of incest and the death of his unborn child. One scene cuts suddenly to another, with a scene of loud chaos bein' replaced by a quiet moment-and then suddenly the horrors begin anew. Characters are restored to health only to be savaged again...and again. All of the film's main characters meet their individual punishments-even characters that seem to be completely sinless, like Yukiko (who gets the relatively mild hell of the banks of the River Sanzu, where children who die before their parents are sent to build up memorial mounds-only to find them endlessly knocked over) and Sachiko. The film is worth seein' just for these 40 very intense minutes-and when combined with all that came before (which also has a nightmarish, not quite worldy feel to it) becomes a true horror masterpiece.

For all the unsavory characters and horror, Nakagawa does hint at the possibility of redemption. At the film's end, Yukiko and Sachiko are shown bein' showered with lotus petals at the gates of the shinin' Western Paradise-presumably bein' witnessed (and accompanied) by Shiro along with his and Yukiko's unborn daughter Harumi, who he has saved from the Wheel Of Life.

Nakagawa adds many of his unique touches to the film. Much of it is shot in long shots and medium shots, givin' hell the dimension it needs to be intimidatin'. The openin' credit sequence sets the stage-it features scenes of strippers in various poses and has nothin' to do with the rest of the film. The chaotic mood is enhanced by the soundtrack-snippets of music, dialogue, babies cryin', machine gun fire-in fact, the audio of the credits sequence is eerily like the Beatles song 'Revolution 9' (which came several years later). The song 'Revoluton 9', of course, is supposed to have been one of the songs that helped set the Manson family on its infamous killin' spree. Nakagawa shoots scenes sideways (a shot of a clock pendulum sideways suddenly stoppin' effectively conveys that time has run out for the characters), backwards, and in a couple of shots, starts out rightside up, slowly twistin' in a trackin' shot until the scene ends up upside down. Events that happen later are presaged (a clock in Yukiko's housestops at 9 early in the film-the same time all the characters die later in the movie, whereupon a different clock stops). All in all, Nakagawa's style adds greatly to the disjointed, unreal mood of the film.

Gorehounds will find plenty to keep them interested. While the effects are early 60's basic, they add to the bizarre and nightmarish quality of the film-and some of them are chillin'ly effective. The shot of the aftermath of Shimizu Gozo's flayin' is a high point- his screamin', livin' head attached to a skeleton with some pieces of flesh still attached, with a beatin' heart the centerpiece. Likewise, the body of his mistress Kinuko bein' pulled away from her head (and leavin' bloody skid marks behind) still gives one the shivers. OK, so Jigoku ain't a samurai movie-but go see it anyway. You might find you'll think a little more about where you're headed afterwards.


Snake Woman's Curse-Well, ya know that any movie with 'snake' and 'woman' in the same title is bound to be a garn-teed winner. Strictly speakin’, the movie ain’t a samurai film. But hey, if films like Lady Snowblood and the Wicked Priest series (both late in the Meiji period and long past the heyday of the samurai) are usually lumped into the samurai film genre-we can put this Nakagawa Nobuo film in there too (it’s set in the early Meiji). It’s basically the story of how even though the bosses have changed (from the Tokugawa Shogunate to the Emperor and his Loyalist stooges), the peasants are still gettin’ screwed-it’s just that now it’s by industrialists and landlords instead of samurai. A peasant family sees all three of its members fall to the depravations of their landlord Onuma Chobei, his bitchy wife Masae, and his porker of a son Takeo. Peasant Yasuke basically drops over dead when the landlord won’t cut him a break and reclaims his farmland. His wife Sue and daughter Asa are forced into servitude by Chobei to pay off his debt. Sue is sexually harassed by Chobei and routinely humiliated by his wife. She’s finally killed by him when she attempts to save the life of a snake that has entered the house (she bein’ an early animal rights activist). Finally, Asa is raped by Porky and to top it off is punished for tryin’ to escape when he leaves her passed out in a ditch. Porky drops the bomb on her again and this time pushes her over the edge-with some promptin’ by her ghostly Mom, she kills herself. That’s when things start to get intrestin’.

Yasuke and Sue have been poppin’ up now and again to strike fear in the heart of Chobei, but now things really kick into high gear. The greedy Onuma family sees snakes everywhere-Porky’s new wife literally becomes a snake (in his eyes) and he loses it, inadvertently killin’ himself in a scene that will show you why they usually use stuntmen for this. Chobei and his wife get their payback as well-the last 20 minutes or so features the supernatural craziness that we love Nakagawa for. The film’s openin’ credits sequence and endin’ feature some very strikin’ imagery, some of Nakagawa’s best. Overall, it’s much like a Hammer horror film of this era (1968)-even the score sounds like it came from Hammer (albeit with a few touches of ‘spooky’ American 50’s haunted house stingers).

Now, the film is excellent and very entertainin’. However, I want to go off on the commentary. Film commentaries are generally of three types-

1) a drunken cast and crew party that might be fun to listen to but tells you nothin’ (as heard on ‘Brick McBurly And The Samurai Chicks’)

2) an actually informative commentary that focuses on both the film itself as well as the stars and creators (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo-most Criterion stuff)

3) Artsy-fartsy stuff from some egghead who totally ignores the film and instead spends the whole time obsessively givin’ a bio of the director or star

The commentary for ‘Snake Woman’ (by Jonathan Hall) falls firmly under #3. While the Brickster loves Nakagawa’s films (most of the films in this section are his), I can do without hearin’ yet another overview of his career. TALK ABOUT THE MOVIE, FER CRISSAKES! As if this ain’t bad enough, Egghead also spends a chapter or two givin’ us a ‘Tiger Tanaka’ (Tamba Testuro) retrospective-and the guy spends less than a minute in the film in a minor walk on! Of course, the leads hardly get a mention throughout.

But that ain’t the worst. This guy don’t even have enough to say to fill up an 84 minute movie-there are several stretches of 2, 3, even 5 chapters (in a 24 chapter film) where there is NO commentary at all! What, was he takin’ calls on his cell phone while they were tapin’? Luckily, Synapse got someone else to do the commentary for the first two ‘Poisonous Seductress’ films they released later.



Female Demon Ohyaku is the first film in the ‘Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress’ series. Ya’d think just from a look at the covers and the descriptions on the back that these films would be little more than cheap exploitation films. Not so! While modestly budgeted, this trilogy is easily as good as most of the films in the Zatoichi or Sleepy Eyes Of Death series. Production values are good, they feature solid performances from many familiar genre vets (Wakayama Tomisaburo is in two of ‘em), and while they’re classed as ‘Pinky Violence’, they’re really not that bloody and there’s no real nudity to be seen (which ain’t to say there ain’t plenty of smokin’ hot babes along the way!). What there is, is crazy storylines and whacked out goin's on along with plenty of torture, swordplay, and depravity (not always in that order). They’re from the studio near and dear to the Brickster’s heart, Toei. And they all have happy endin's! Go figure. Anyhoo, Female Demon Ohyaku is in black and white and like the other two films features Miyazono Junko as the lead. Ohyaku is a female entertainer (who does a tight rope act) that falls in with a bad crowd, who in turn are set up by an even worse crowd. I can sympathize. Ohyaku’s ronin beau (who just wants to steal a large shipment of gold to show up the rich people-yeah, right) gets hisself and all his men killed (and hoses a room down with a blood geyser to end ‘em all). Ohyaku is tortured and raped by the evil magistrate and then for good measure is shipped off to Sado Island, the only female prisoner in an enclave of hardened criminals (yeah, that works out well). She manages to escape and pay back all the SOB’s that screwed her over, and along the way there’s guillotines, women strung up by their hair, lesbian tattoo artists, love quadrangles, more betrayal, sex extortion, and pretty much all the other ingredients a fine movin’ picture requires. The film is shot in black and white, givin’ it a grimmer tone than the other two which are in glorious livin’ color.

Which brings us to the second ‘Poisonous Seductress’ entry-this time Miyazono plays the rootin’ tootinest, fastest shootinest, Quick-Draw Okatsu! But don’t be misled-Okatsu don’t use guns-nope, she’s the adopted daughter of master swordsman Makabe and an instructor at his dojo. Makabe’s black sheep son is fleeced at the local gamblin' den but manages to escape and run off. Okatsu and her dad are held responsible by the thugs and the dishonest local magistrate (were there ANY honest magistrates in the Edo Period?), who is squeezin' the locals for extra rice tax and pocketin' just about everythin'. Poor ‘ol dad is beaten to death by his turncoat dojo assistant and Okatsu is forcibly taken by the lustful magistrate. Once again, she manages to escape and later turn the tables, slicin' her way through an entire army of bodyguards. Along the way there are forced abortions, sexual slavery, multiple eye gougin’, treacherous behavior from everyone and their brother, and Wakayama Tomisaburo as an Old West style bounty hunter complete with white chaps, a six-gun, lasso, and wanted posters. What more could ya want? This is my favorite entry in the series. For one, the director-Nakagawa Nobuo, one of the Brickster’s faves (Jigoku, Ghosts Of Yotsuya, Snake Woman’s Curse). There’s an incredible extended shot of a brothel where all six rooms with their inhabitants are on screen at the same time-the action moves from room to room. It’s a lot like watchin’ an elaborate stage play, and it’s done with no cuts despite lastin’ several minutes. Nobuo drops several unique bits like this into each film, includin’ the next entry in the series. Miyazono Junko turns in a great performance-whether she’s the ladylike, cultured Okatsu early on or the later snarlin’, vengeful she-devil, she’s completely believable. But the real reason I love this film is the incredible Oshida Reiko, who plays Rui. Rui is a government agent in a black mini skirt who shows up at opportune moments throughout the film to pull Okatsu’s butt out of trouble. And she is HOT. I mean rrrrrreaaallllly HOT! This Christmas Eve, I fully expect to have visions of Reiko dance in my head. Maybe if I’m nice (fat chance), Santa’ll leave me a sack full ‘o her other films.

Lastly, we gots Okatsu The Fugitive. Miyazono Junko returns as Makabe Okatsu-but not THAT Makabe Okatsu. Nope, this is a whole ‘nother character and situation. Again, tomboy Okatsu is a mistress of the sword, the best student at the local dojo. This time around, Okatsu’s dad pulls the age old boner of informin’ the bad magistrate that he’s plannin’ on turnin’ him in for his evil deeds (fer enslavin' the peasants and producin' the forbidden weed-tobacco leaves). It don’t take long for him to end up trussed to a water wheel and his wife thrown into a cage full of horny criminals. Dad and mom commit suicide, but not before dad gives Okatsu the location of the document condemnin’ the evil magistrate. Treachery hits an all time high in the series, with even Okatsu’s dojo instructor and fiancé turnin’ on her. Okatsu is raped by the evil magistrate but allowed to escape in order to lead them to the incriminatin’ document. Some of the best swordplay in the series takes place here-Miyazono looks like a breakdancin’ porcupine at times as she spins around the floor slicin’ up lackeys. Okatsu finally finds some help at the stereotypical temple full of kids orphaned by the rat bastard magistrate. A ronin who gave up teachin' the sword to ‘stupid samurai’ like Okatsu’s fiancé is headin’ up the crew there. And even better, Oshida Reiko plays one of the orphans. No swordplay from her here-she spends her time actin’ all coy and adorable in hot pants, and swingin’ from tree to tree on a rope. Really. High point of the film comes when Okatsu slices the loincloth off an overly amorous bandit, sendin' the clown scurryin' away bare ass naked. It brought visions of the openin' scene from 'Dolemite:The Human Tornado' to mind. Nakagawa Nobuo directed this one, too.

A solid series where I was just expectin’ some schlock. The producers of the DVD’s (Synapse Films) did ‘em up right, too-there’s galleries of Nakagawa’s film posters and an extensive bio along with trailers of all three films. The transfers are great and have clear, well done removable English subtitles. There are short essay booklets for each. Heck, there’s even commentary tracks on the first two.


 Ugetsu is an extremely well done, low key ghost story-morality play. It’s been covered elsewhere in detail so I’ll just say that the scene near the end of the film when the wayward potter reunites with his wife is one of the most touchin' scenes in cinematic history. Heck, it even brought a tear to the Brickster’s eye.


 That brings us to The Ghost Of Yotsuya, the Brickster’s fav’rit of the year. As Patrick Galloway points out in Asia Shock, there are multiple versions of this film based on the story Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (not as many, as say, Chushingura-but Ghosts Of Yotsuya is a lot more realistic). I’ve seen four, and the one I liked best is the 1959 version directed by (once again) Nakagawa Nobuo. The story is nothin' new-poor ronin kills off lovin' wife to marry into rich family. The difference is, The Ghost Of Yotsuya does it with style. Wife Iwa doesn’t just get sliced up-nope, she’s poisoned, disfigured, disgraced, and tied to a shutter with her supposed ‘lover’ and dumped into the nearest swamp by her husband Iemon. It’s difficult and horrible to watch as the poor sick thing pitifully tries to comb her hair only for it to fall out in clumps. But, she gets her revenge-hoo boy, does she ever! This is one angry, pitiless, scary as hell ghost-a forerunner to what’s seen in films shot much later like Ringu and Juon (The Grudge). Comin' along fer the ride is the spirit of the framed lover, Takuetsu. Notable scenes include the famous ‘shutter rising from the swamp’ sequence, and a moment also involvin' the shutter that has to rank among the best scares ever. It sent cold chills up the Brickster’s spine! For best results, watch this baby in the early mornin' hours with the lights off. If you like this one, you might want to look for the ’56 version with Wakayama Tomisaburo (who is in everythin') as Iemon, or the color ’66 version Illusion Of Blood.